One of the three “flyaway” races before the season finale in Valencia, the Japanese GP is race that is not only important to the two remaining Japanese manufacturers in the premier class, but it begins the dénouement of the MotoGP Championship.
Finding renewed vigor in his Championship hunt, Dani Pedrosa has only a handful of races left to catch Jorge Lorenzo, and win his first premier-class title. Truthfully needing Lorenzo to make a critical mistake or suffer a mechanical failure, Pedrosa also has to keep the pressure on his rival, and try to minimize the gap to his fellow Spaniard.
With each place separating the two riders likely to play a pivotal role at the end of the season, the drama unfolding in Motegi was palpable, though the action itself was a slow grind of a multi-campaign war.
The claiming rule team (CRT) bikes are both figuratively and literally under the spotlight at Qatar this race weekend, with their production-based motors and prototype frames shaking up the norm of pure prototype racing. Both an effort to take power away from MotoGP’s MSMA, which is comprised of Ducati, Honda, & Yamaha, and as an effort to lower the cost of racing in MotoGP for its participating teams, the CRT experiment is getting its first real test this weekend.
Swelling MotoGP’s grid with an additional nine-racer entries, the CRTs have certainly helped fill MotoGP’s ranks, though mostly with riders we are not familiar with. Leading the CRT charge is American Colin Edwards, and he is joined by Randy de Puniet, who didn’t wish to be on a CRT for the 2012, but has still found himself at the top of the heap. These two veteran MotoGP riders have been accompanied by seven riders that hail from a range of world and national championships that span everything from Spanish Superbike (CEV) to British Superbike to the Moto2 Championship.
Since on Sunday morning, MotoGP fans are going to have learn the names of these new riders and the bikes they ride, we have put together a primer on the CRT entries for the 2012 MotoGP Championship. Bios, specs, and notes on all nine MotoGP CRT entries are after the jump.
With testing concluded at Jerez, the MotoGP paddock has just two short weeks before the opening round at the Losail International Circuit is underway. Heading into Qatar, there are few surprises from last season though, as the Honda of Casey Stoner continues to dominate the time sheets, while teammate Dani Pedrosa and top-Yamaha man Jorge Lorenzo trail closely behind.
Yamaha’s package looks very refined and balanced, and appears to have gained a step on the Honda machines. This should make for more interesting racing moments, where the more balanced Yamaha YZR-M1 will excel at certain tracks, while the more powerful Honda RC213V will shine at others. Also coming more into play will be the strengths and weaknesses of Honda and Yamaha’s top riders, whose particular track preferences could be the x-factor at some of the races.
Still at best, MotoGP is shaping up to be a three-man show, with maybe Ben Spies and some other riders occasionally mixing the order of things up. This statement is of course a direct reflection on the progress of Ducati Corse, which despite having made improvements to the Ducati Desmosedici GP12, is not really any closer to making up the difference to the front of the pack. Now using a completely revised aluminum frame, the team still seems to be struggling to find a starting point from which to build from, and in the process they have killed enough spare parts to start a pick-and-pull MotoGP junkyard.
There are several MotoGP riders I count as dark horses to show their true colors in 2012, and Alvaro Bautista is one of them. Freed from the troubled Suzuki GSV-R and now on a Honda RC213V, Alvaro should have a more reliable package on which to show his stuff, and I expect to see him fighting for the “Best of the Rest” title.
In many ways, MotoGP’s return to the Sepang International Circuit (ironically, SIC for short), is like returning to the scene of the crime, as the motorcycling community was robbed of one of its most memorable and rising stars. It was only a few months ago that MotoGP fans watched Marco Simoncelli perish during the first laps of the Malaysian GP, and since that tragedy, today is the first chance for many in the GP community to return to that fateful track.
Michele Pirro finished his 2011 Moto2 season on a high note, winning the final round at Valencia for the Gresini Racing team. Coming on the heels of MotoGP’s final tribute to Marco Simoncelli, the victory was an especially emotional one for the young Italian rider and his team. Finishing seventh in the Moto2 Championship standings, Pirro’s hard work has earned him a promotion into MotoGP, where the rookie rider will campaign a CRT bike with the San Carlo Honda Gresini team.
Gresini has confirmed that the team will use an FTR chassis, which will be custom-built to use a Honda CBR1000RR motor. This brings the total number of confirmed CRT entries up to five, with several more CRT entries still expected to commit to the 2012 MotoGP Championship. This news means we should see at least 20 bikes on the grid for the MotoGP opener at Qatar, though the question remains: how competitive will they be?
Finally putting an end to the speculation, Team San Carlo Honda Gresini has confirmed that the satellite Honda MotoGP team will field a claiming rule team (CRT) entry for the 2012 season. Using a Honda CBR1000RR motor with a custom chassis built by FTR Moto (the same firm linked to Ducati’s twin-spar aluminum frame), Gresini becomes the latest MotoGP to jump on the growing CRT bandwagon.
The move means San Carlo Honda Gresini will field a hybrid garage for next season, with Álvaro Bautista on satellite-spec Honda RC213V bike, and a yet unnamed rider on the CRT racing machine. With a high-profile satellite team like Gresini adding a CRT bike to its format, the news adds yet more validation to the CRT movement.
Sunday morning here in Valencia marks the final race of the 2011 MotoGP Championship, and the already bittersweet Grand Prix will become increasingly somber as the GP paddock will also be paying its final respects to Marco Simoncelli. Starting at 10:10am, 125GP, Moto2, and MotoGP riders will partake in a parade lap around the Circuito de la Comunitat Valenciana. The procession will be lead by Kevin Schwantz, who will ride Marco Simoncelli’s San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V race bike for the occasion.
While it is still not clear whether the San Carlo Honda Gresini team will race with Hiroshi Aoyama in the upcoming Valencian GP, the Gresini Racing team has confirmed it will at least travel to the final MotoGP round. The Gresini Racing team has confirmed that many members of the San Carlo Honda Gresini MotoGP team will be present at the spanish track, and that the customary team pit box will be setup with Marco Simoncelli’s #58 Honda RC212V on display to tribute the fallen rider.
The rumormill regarding whether Repsol Honda’s three rider-team will endure for the 2012 MotoGP season has been in full-swing lately, and paddock rumors have pegged Andrea Dovizioso, the only Repsol Honda rider whose contract is up at the end of the season, as moving out into a satellite Honda team. Whether that means Dovizioso lands in LCR, Gresini, or some other team has been the subject of much gossip, rumor, and speculation. Though an answer appears to be coming this weekend, according to Dovi.