Photo: Yamaha Racing
Photo: Rizla Suzuki
The real question about the 2012 MotoGP season may be this: will the switch back to liter engines, and the rules that accompany that change, mean that non-factory teams can compete for the championship? Consider Alex de Angelis, shown here at the Sachsenring in 2009, hanging off his satellite Honda in typical style, and the fact that he was 2nd in the 2003 125cc championship, and third in 2006 and 2007 as a 250cc rider, but only had one podium in two years in the premier class.
Since the switch from 2-stroke 500s non-factory teams have not had much of a chance at taking the title, and for a rider on a satellite team the only realistic goal has been to be the Best of the Rest. We will almost certainly see a larger grid in 2012, but will the advantages the Claiming Rule Teams have (more fuel per race, more engines per season) mean they will be in a more competitive position?
I hope that riders such as De Angelis will find themselves competing for more than a few points each round, and will have a greater chance to show they belong in MotoGP before being demoted to another class or series.
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.
Photo: Ducati Corse
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.
The three Repsol Hondas have been the talk of the paddock throughout the pre-season testing. Dominating the time sheets with blistering laps, the only debate for the 2011 season seemingly was which rider’s name would be engraved on the MotoGP Championship trophy at the end of the season. The buzz surrounding the three-man squad reached a new peak in volume when stories of Honda’s new gearbox, allegedly a potentially illegal dual-clutch transmission, broke in the headlines of racing publications.
While subsequent reports later clarified that the gearbox was indeed very legal, and very quick in the way it changed gears and delivered power, the again superb performances in Qatar by Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa did little to sway opinions on the outcome of the 2011 season — that is until Jorge Lorenzo showed up on Sudnay night. Perhaps casting some doubt on the outright domination of the Repsol squad, the only pre-season chatter that seems to remain, is how impressive Casey Stoner has been at adapting to his new Honda RC212V. Like a maestro writing his opus, the MotoGP Championship seems to be Stoner’s for the taking, and all eyes will be on him as MotoGP heads to Jerez in two weeks.
Jorge Lorenzo has his hands full in 2011. With his stylized JL #1 replacing last year’s 99 on his Yamaha M1, Lorenzo wants to keep up the momentum with which he swept the 2010 season. But as the official tests have made clear, repeating in the style of the man he both dislikes, and wants to be, will be prove a difficult task indeed. After the first night of the final test in Qatar, Lorenzo managed the fifth best time, four tenths behind Dani Pedrosa, and nearly three tenths behind the man everyone fears, Casey Stoner.
Stoner only put in 20 hot laps (32 total) and managed second on the time sheet. Lorenzo did 60 total laps, but had one impressive series of low 1:57s and high 1:56s after another. That consistency just may be the key to fending off the competition over the long haul if he can make 2011 as mistake-free as 2010. The lone star on JL’s new 1 logo is eerily reminiscent of his teammate, Texan Ben Spies, who managed to creep ahead of Lorenzo to demote the Spaniard to 5th on the evening. There is no shortage of riders who are likely to make Lorenzo’s amazing season in 2010 very tough to replicate.