Papa Wheelie is back! This time, he’s going to talk about the MotoGP circuit. If you’re wondering what that is, he’ll tell you right now!
If you have followed my posts last year about F1, I’m pretty sure all of you have figured out that I’m big fan of things that go fast. I first learned how to ride a quad when I was eight years old, and since then I have been a big fan of motorcycles and other dangerous and lovely personal motorsports. One of my big passions has always been motorcycles, and I’ve owned four of them in last ten years. I grew up watching motocross and supercross, but my first love has always been superbike and grand prix racing.
The thing that strikes me the most about motorcycle racing in general is the intensity of the racing. These vehicles weigh less than most NFL lineman and are capable of going faster than 200 mph in a straight line. It’s hard to describe the visceral feeling of riding a motorcycle, but to watch people compete on them is a whole other level of amazement. Without any doubt, the best racing I have seen in the last five years has come from MotoGP and World Superbike. Because of the nature of the bikes, the sport is arguably the most dangerous form of racing on the planet. I very nearly gave up watching MotoGP last year because of the horrifying crash in Malaysia that claimed the life of rising star Marco Simoncelli. But these riders know that this is the life they have chosen, and that consequence can be the price of such a life.
So what is MotoGP and World Superbike anyways?
MotoGP is short for Motorcycle Grand Prix, and these bikes are defined as prototype machinery, which is that they are completely custom designed chassis and not based on any factory production chassis. MotoGP bikes have traditionally had a “blue sky” approach to racing, which means that the ones who spend the most on development (factory teams) will usually dominate, and the independent teams fight for as many points as they can get. World Superbike, as well as American Superbike and the other Superbike categories are series based on production motorcycles, such as the Honda CBR1000RR, Yamaha R1, and the Aprilia RSV4 Factory. These bikes often use the same frames as their factory counterparts, but everything else, including the electronics are heavily modified for the superbike series.
Typically, the racing is tighter in the superbike series, due to the restrictions in the rules. Those same rules usually mean that superbikes are not as fast as MotoGP machines. MotoGP has a new engine formula for 2012 which has left a lot of teams questioning where they stand, as well as encouraging new independents to join the fray. I promise not to get too technical in my posts and focus more on the action, but the tech stuff very much defines the championships… and the drama.
Who’s Who in MotoGP
There are lots of new teams in MotoGP this year because of the rule changes, and hopefully these rules will bring closer action between the factory teams, as well as some surprises from the new guys. We’ll cover the more established teams in this posting and the new teams in another post.
Repsol Honda has been a very dominant force since the inception of the Grand Prix racing series. The best riders in the world usually have some tie to Honda Racing Corporation (HRC) at some point in their career, and for good reason. HRC has one focused goal, which is to win at all costs. Last year they ran a three bike team made up of of current champion Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso. On many occasions last year, races featured these three riders in the top three positions, which led to many battles between these three.
Despite having a hugely dominant 2011, HRC has been largely unsuccessful under the previous set of engine rules, and often lost championships to Yamaha and Ducati. Early testing and strong late season form promises that Repsol Honda will very strong again this year. Casey Stoner returns as dual world champion, and is easily riding the best he has ever ridden in his career. Dani Pedrosa has shown exceptional promise; So much that HRC had literally built their entire campaigns around him, until the arrival of Stoner. His riding has been plagued by numerous injuries, and one could speculate that his time is limited if he can’t match his world champion teammate. Repsol Honda was way ahead of everyone last year, and they are likely to continue to be the ones to beat in 2012.
Yamaha Factory Racing
If there is an arch-rival to HRC, it is definitely Yamaha. Their bike has traditionally been one of the smoothest and best handling bikes in the MotoGP paddock, but was largely down on power compared to the Repsol Honda bikes last year. 2010 World Champion Jorge Lorenzo, along with Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, and Valentino Rossi, is often called one of the “Aliens,” a group of the riders that, because of their sheer speed and factory support, are more likely to win the races compared to all other riders.
Long hailed a great racer in American Superbike, Ben Spies‘ racing ambition has moved to the world stage, and his heart is firmly set on winning the MotoGP championship. Spies took the 2009 World Superbike championship by storm (his only campaign in the series) and, after a promising year with the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team, he quickly moved into the factory Yamaha. Both Lorenzo and Spies had flashes of brilliance and took vital wins away from the Repsol Honda team, but ultimately the bike just couldn’t match the speed of the Honda. The new engine rules should level out the competition at the front of the field, which will definitely promise more exciting battles between these two teammates and the rival teams.
The last of the factory teams in MotoGP is also one of the best known in all of motorcycling. Ducati is as iconic in motorcycles as Ferrari is in racing. No rider is more iconic in MotoGP than Ducati rider Valentino Rossi. His career has rewritten almost all of the records in Grand Prix racing. His drive and personality have really pushed MotoGP to where it is now, and helped it gain a whole new type of audience that remains loyal to a racer no matter what team he races for. When the announcement was made that he was leaving Yamaha, where he won four of his seven world titles, and heading to the most renowned italian motorcycle marquee, the news was nothing short of epic.
Unfortunately, the Ducati Desmosedici is a bike that no one could win on, other than Casey Stoner. Rossi struggled quite a bit last year on the Ducati as did his former HRC teammate and 2006 World Champion, Nicky Hayden. Complaints of severe handling problems really dampened their campaign year, to the point that both riders were struggling for 6th place most of the time. Ducati has made up a lot of ground since the end of the season and in the first tests this year, and both riders seem happier with the progress of the bike. Bothe riders are coming off their worst years in a long time, so they both have a lot to prove, and both desperately want to get back at the top of the podium.
Monster Tech 3 Yamaha
Tech 3 is a good team at the core, but often will lack the ability to produce a bike good enough for wins. Ben Spies was able to put the bike on pole at Indianopolis in 2010, but nobody has been able to do that since. Andrea Dovizioso had a great campaign last year with Repsol Honda, but was left out when HRC decided to only run two bikes (they retained both Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner). Dovizioso is a solid racer overall, but he will need to learn to push harder if he wants to get back into a top team. British rider Cal Crutchlow returns to Tech 3 after having an injury-filled 2011. The World Superbike and British Superbike veteran has had some great battles so far in MotoGP, but has lacked the sheer speed to attract a factory ride. Both riders are in good shape, and hopefully the rule changes will help them bridge the gap to the factory teams for a better 2012
San Carlo Honda Gresini
Gresini Honda has long been an enigma, where certain riders can join the team and have a full factory supported bike, without being on a factory team. Until his fatal crash in Malaysia, 2011 was looking to be a breakthrough year for factory Gresini Honda rider Marco Simoncelli. 2012 has a whole new rider line-up for Gresini. Rookie Michele Pirro steps up from Moto2 (kind of like a minor league for GP) and will aim to prove himself quickly to try and build his career in MotoGP. Alvaro Bautista is coming from the recently departed factory Suzuki team and settling into the Gresini pretty quickly. If the Honda remains dominant, expect to see some good performances from Bautista.
Pramac Racing Team
Another team that has a lot at stake riding on the new Ducati Desmosedici is the Pramac team. Hector Barbera returns at a vital time in his career. He really needs to cement his place in the pecking order if he is to continue racing in MotoGP. A quick rider when the circumstances are right, Barbera needs to push to the next level and prove his worth and, with only one rider this year, Pramac really needs some strong results to continue on as well.
LCR Honda MotoGP
This satellite Honda team has shown some great performances with Casey Stoner in the past and is looking to rebuild after a poor performance last year by the ousted Toni Elias. To much anticipation, current Moto2 champion Stefan Bradl makes his MotoGP debut in 2012. LCR could have a strong year if the new Honda performs well, and Bradl definitely has something to prove now that he’s in the big leagues.
Cardion AB Motoracing
Another Ducati hopeful that really needs to harness the talent of Czech rider Karel Abraham. Showing some promise in his 2011 campaign, Abraham is definitely looking to prove himself and get a better ride.
Next time we’ll take a deeper dive into the new teams and the rules that created them.
Feature image courtesy of: http://www.teamaspar.net/
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