With the MotoGP season about to begin, all eyes are on Rossi and what he and Jeremy Burgess have been able to accomplish with the Ducati GP11. Will Valentino be thinking of his glory days under the lights on his beloved Yamaha M1? This image, from 2009, shows Valentino in peak form as he began his final championship season with Yamaha. Though Casey Stoner won by almost eight seconds, Rossi began his title chase with a strong second in the first ever Monday night race after a rare desert rain storm ruined the Sunday night schedule.
In this photo Rossi’s bike wears the Forza Abruzzo logo on its tail section, representing Rossi’s contribution to the relief effort to help L’Aquila recover from a devastating earthquake that struck the city on April 6th, 2009. Of all the bikes braking for Turn 1 after Losail’s long front straight, Rossi’s showed the brightest brake discs, glowing hot like fire in the desert.
As the Ducati Cup, also know as World Superbike, enters the 2011 season, the grid looks odd without a presence many have taken for granted for several decades, a factory Ducati team. While Ducati does have Valentino Rossi on its prototype GP11 this year, the Xerox WSBK team is no more, leaving others to defend Ducati’s honor in the series. This weekend at Philip Island, Carlos Checa rode his Althea Ducati to pole and a double victory, dominating the weekend. Though the Bologna factory may not be present as an official team entry, Ducati’s racing heritage appears well represented in World Superbike for 2011.
2010 World Superbike Champion Max Biaggi will be adding a fifth star to his leathers in 2011, the existing four representing his previous world titles. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, four of his five titles have been on Aprilia machines, the first four being consecutive 250cc GP Championships between 1994 and 1997.
Max has re-signed with Aprilia for another two years and will begin his title defense next weekend when the WSBK season kicks off at Philip Island. The above photo is from the Miller Motorsports Park round in 2010, where Max won twice after Carlos Checa’s Ducati quit while in comfortable leads in both races.
Taking over Valentino Rossi’s factory Yamaha seat, multiple AMA Superbike Champion, 2010 WSBK Champion, and 2011 MotoGP Rookie of the Year Ben Spies will have the same equipment as reigning World Champion Jorge Lorenzo. Given how well Spies did on the satellite Tech3 Yamaha in 2010, the factory bike and a year of experience could mean the difference between being the “Best of the Rest” and the “Big Four” becoming the Big Five.
With the 2011 MotoGP season right around the corner, there are several big questions waiting to be answered. The biggest is how Valentino Rossi will manage with the Ducati GP11. Last year Rossi won the season opener at Losail after Stoner crashed out of the lead, and was pleased to have what would become his final year with Yamaha off to a good start.
But his broken leg at Mugello put him out of the Championship running as rival Jorge Lorenzo rode the bike Rossi had developed to the title. Rossi’s challenge in 2011 is formidable if he is going to reclaim the premiere class championship, and go down in the record books as having done so with three different factories. He has a lot to think about before the lights come on in Qatar.
MotoGP isn’t the only season about to get under way, and 2010 AMA Superbike champ Josh Hayes will trade his #4 for a #1 on his Graves Yamaha, as he sets out to defend the first title not owned by a Suzuki in…well, nearly too long to count after the dominance of Spies and Mladin.
Hayes was the fastest superbike at the recent weather-plagued tire test at Daytona, but he is likely to face some good competition in 2011, from a slew of experienced Suzuki riders, including Tommy Hayden, Blake Young, Ben Bostrom, Roger Hayden, Chris Ulrich, and 600cc star Martin Cardenas. Add to the suspense veteran Larry Pegram on a BMW instead of his Ducati, and Eric Bostrom on a Kawasaki, and there should be plenty to watch here at home in the AMA.
Editor’s note: Scott Jones will graciously be running a weekly series of his best photos from the AMA, WSBK, and MotoGP racing events here on Asphalt & Rubber. For more of his work, you can catch him at ScottJones.net.
Besides the Rossi-Ducati situation, how Casey Stoner will fare with HRC’s 2011 bike is on everyone’s mind, not least of all Jorge Lorenzo’s, who was just quoted as saying Stoner, not Rossi, would be his main competition in 2011. Stoner’s rookie MotoGP season showed flashes of brilliance, ruined repeatedly by a Michelin front tire that was not up to the demands Stoner placed on it.
Back on a Honda, Stoner will have the magnificent Bridgestone front tire without the Ducati’s temperament to manage at every corner, plus several years’ experience and a world title in his pocket since that rookie season. Given what Stoner got out of the Ducati, he should be very dangerous indeed on HRC’s final 800cc bike.”