The Number 1 man in the MotoGP paddock, Jorge Lorenzo defends his title after complete domination in 2010.
Honda, Valentino Rossi struggling after his move to Ducati, Ben Spies the new Yamaha factory man… The highly-anticipated 2011 MotoGP Championship is finally here, folks, so saddle-up with MCUSA for a basic primer of the upcoming season.
Celebrating a half-century in MotoGP, Yamaha enters the 2011 season with reigning champ Jorge Lorenzo leading the charge. The tuning fork logo lost an irreplaceable force in Valentino Rossi, but 2010 MotoGP Rookie of the Year Ben Spies will campaign in his stead.
Lorenzo approaches the series armed with the Number 1 plate after his shock-and-awe campaign last season. In 18 rounds the Factory Yamaha star snatched up nine victories, seven pole positions and 16 total podium appearances. The impressive haul not only claimed the title, it racked up an unprecedented 383 total points. Lorenzo’s dominating record has yet to yield a MotoGP victory at Qatar, however, “just” a trio of podium finishes and front row starting positions. More troubling were Lorenzo’s recent test sessions at Qatar, with the Mallocran more than a second off the pace of the leading Hondas. However, until bested on the track in race conditions, Lorenzo holds the title of championship favorite.
Ben Spies enters his sophomore effort with a factory ride and rising expectations as the next American title contender.
“The new season is here and I’m very proud to be able to start it with the Number 1,” said Lorenzo. “Our bike has been better and better from the first test but there is still room for improvement. Winning the World Championship last year was a great achievement but everybody starts the same this weekend with no points and the competition is very tough. I have been training very hard over the winter to be ready and I am excited to start.”
Spies marks his factory GP debut after logging an impressive rookie campaign with the satellite Tech 3 team. In spite of a lack of experience on some of the circuits, Elbowz consistently battled for the rostrum, netting two podiums and nine top-five finishes. The 25-year-old completed his rookie season sixth overall, securing the vacated factory seat when Rossi moved to Ducati. Filling the shoes of his predecessor will be a massive undertaking, to say the least, but Spies has won at every level in his career. The question remains how high can he rise in Grand Prix, and whether will he become the next American GP champion.
“It feels really good to be here as part of the Factory Team, we worked really hard last year to get here,” said Spies. “I’ve got a great crew around me, I’ve worked with most of them before in different teams so it’s almost like a reunion! Everything has gone really smoothly in the tests, I have to say I’m more of a racer than a tester so I’m pretty impatient now to get to it and see what we can do.”
TECH 3 YAMAHA
Last year the Tech 3 outfit was all Texas, as Spies teamed up with Colin Edwards. The Texas Tornado returns once again with the satellite Yamaha squad, this time paired with British rider and World Superbike promotion Cal Crutchlow. For Edwards, the challenge will be making the secondary M1 fleet more than just consistent point gatherers. The former World Superbike champ was rumored to be on the move back to his happy WSB hunting grounds with Ducati, but managed another year in the GP saddle. Edwards still has that never-won-a-Grand-Prix monkey clinging, maybe permanently embedded by now, on his back – so here’s to the fun-lovin’, t-shirt-gun-shootin’ Texan finally nabbing that GP win.
As for Crutchlow, a solid 2010 World Superbike campaign for Yamaha earned his entry into Grand Prix. The WSB promotion seems to be Yamaha’s strategy for Grand Prix talent cultivation: It worked for Ben Spies, but James Toseland – not so much… Both those Tech 3 rookies were freshly crowned WSB champs. The Englishman holds British Supersport and World Supersport championship titles, with a pair of wins and six podiums in his lone WSB effort. Preseason tests have Crutchlow low on the timesheets, getting up to speed, as the British rider gets his shot at the big show in 2011.