Catalunya MotoGP Preview 2011

June 2, 2011
Bart Madson
By Bart Madson
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Bashing away at the MotoUSA keyboard for nine years now, Madson lends his scribbling and editorial input on everything from bike reviews to industry analysis and motorcycle racing reports.

After a two-week break MotoGP gets back in action at Catalunya for Round 5 of the 2011 championship. The Montmelo circuit is a home race for a number of riders in Grand Prix, not the least of which being reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo. The points leader arrives at the Spanish circuit looking to extend his lead over a MotoGP roster that’s notably absent of rival Dani Pedrosa.

Dani Pedrosa: In the morning it was difficult with the cold conditions to find some grip and then in the afternoon the grip got better but we couldnt improve as much as we expected. Anyway we have some ideas and I hope to make a step forward tomorrow.
Pedrosa will be absent from the Catalunyan grid, missing his home Grand Prix due to a collar bone injury sustained in the notorious collision with Marco Simoncelli at Le Mans.

The reason for Pedrosa’s absence has been the source of controversy in the run-up to Catalunya, the Repsol Honda rider crashing out of second-place at Le Mans breaking his collar bone courtesy of a collision with Gresini Honda’s Marco Simoncelli. Most GP riders condemned the Simoncelli pass as too aggressive, the Italian having been singled out for his recklessness by Lorenzo at a press-conference in Jerez earlier this year. Simoncelli, a de facto fourth factory Honda rider at the start of this season, was reprimanded for the Pedrosa incident during the French GP with a ride-through penalty. The Italian was also summoned to meet with MotoGP Race Direction at the Catalunya GP, where he was scolded and the wild-haired MotoGP sophomore acknowledged he should be more cautious. Forgive and forget… It will be interesting to see how Super Sic responds on Sunday.

While Le Mans and the collar bone injury may nix Pedrosa’s title hopes, missing Round 5 has to be particularly galling given Barcelona is his home circuit as well. At the moment he will have to yield the Repsol Honda charge to his capable teammates, Casey Stoner and Andrea Dovizioso. For now, Dani P must let his injury heal properly: “After France, I had surgery to stabilize the fracture on my right collar bone and hoped to be ready for Barcelona. I pushed myself as best as I could but I feel that my collar bone is not yet ready. I think I must stop for a while and recover properly.”

Casey Stoner takes a look back. The Aussie dominated all practice and qualifying sessions  taking his 25th MotoGP pole position at Le Mans.
Stoner couldn’t find any challengers at Le Mans, but the Aussie arrives at Barcelona battling flu-like symptoms.

Stoner would seem the logical candidate for the victory on Sunday, having scored a Catalunya podium throughout the 800 era and the Aussie also dominated at Le Mans. Stoner carries positive momentum to push ahead of Lorenzo in the critical upcoming weeks, which feature six rounds in an eight-week span. Yet Stoner is not 100%, reportedly battling flu-like symptoms.

“After such a great weekend in Le Mans I’m really looking forward to going to Barcelona, it’s one of the first Grand Prix tracks I rode on and I’ve always enjoyed it,” said Stoner. “In the past Dani has proven our bike performs well there, so hopefully we can get there and find a reasonably good set up, fast and be competitive because we really need to start taking back some more points.”

Andrea Dovizioso seems a prime podium contender, too. The unsung rider of the Repsol trio, the Italian has a pair of fourth-place Catalunya results on his MotoGP resume. The Italian is also flush from a strong second-place result at Le Mans.

Jorge Lorenzo: As Ive said before  this year its going to be a difficult year. Some of the other riders are much faster than before. Were working hard and we are trying a lot of things to improve the bike. We will keep on  we made some improvements over today and I hope tomorrow we will make a step and be a bit faster.
Jorge Lorenzo in action at Le Mans (above), the French GP was a frustrating weekend for the Yamahas. While a winner at Catalunya in 2010, the Mallorcan was not pleased to come up short in a race long duel with then teammate Rossi.Jerez Test - Rossi and Lorenzo

Lorenzo has fond memories of last year’s home effort, the Fiat Yamaha rider taking his first MotoGP win at the Barcelona circuit. In 2009 the Mallorcan came out on the short end of an epic battle with his then teammate Valentino Rossi, the youngster getting bested by the veteran in the final corner. This year Lorenzo arrives as the reigning champion and points leader, but reeling after a drubbing at Le Mans. There the Yamaha was clearly behind the faster Hondas, and Lorenzo was fortunate to get fourth, benefitting a two position gain from the notorious Simoncelli/Pedrosa incident. That said, home field has Lorenzo happy and No. 1 can’t be counted out of anything.

“We are now going straight to Montmeló and we don’t even need to take a plane. It is amazing! I am so happy to be here, the closest track to my home,” said Lorenzo in team PR. “Our aim in this GP will be the podium. We should be focused from Friday on, and I am quite confident that the team is ready to fight, as usual.”

The Doctor would certainly like nothing better than spoiling his rival’s homecoming. Rossi enjoys a record at Catalunya without peer: a staggering six wins and three runner-up podiums. His “worst” showing is a dismal third, one of his first-ever podiums in the premier class back on the 500cc 2-stroke in 2000! The only asterisk on Rossi’s faultless Catalan record is his notable absence in 2010 due to injury (broken leg). Arriving with his first podium finish for Ducati in the books, Rossi now has his sights set on that elusive first win aboard the Duc.

“I’m really happy to return to the track, since I had to watch the race from my house last year,” said Rossi. “I’ve always been quite strong at the track, so I have many nice memories, the most recent of which is the 2009 win after a great battle with Lorenzo. We’re very motivated and we’re working really hard on the bike; step-by-step, we can see that we’re making progress. We know there’s still a lot of work to be done, but we need to keep trying to get closer to the front.”

Americans Ben Spies and Nicky Hayden have been outshined by their alien paddock mates. Hayden snatched a podium at Montemelo in 2006 during his world title-winning run. Spies is looking to turnaround his sophomore GP season, the Texan having earned a pair of DNFs in the opening three rounds. Le Mans was a confidence boost, with Spies besting none other than his countryman Hayden for sixth. For Round 5 the Factory Yamaha rider returns to a personal favorite track, having placed sixth there in his rookie campaign.

Ben Spies - Le Mans
Nicky Hayden - Le Mans
Americans Ben Spies and Nicky Hayden look to sort things out and get better results on their factory rides.

“I think I’m looking forward to this race more than any so far this year! This is definitely a circuit I like to ride a lot more than the previous four,” said Spies. “After a difficult start with some unlucky results we put in a solid ride at Le Mans, considering the pace of some of our competitors I was happy to finish where we did and get some points under my belt.”

Riders like Gresini Honda’s Hiroshi Aoyama and the Tech 3 Yamaha duo of Colin Edwards and Cal Crutchlow will look to make a mark at Catalunya as well. Aoyama has proven a consistent top-10 finisher and points gatherer. The Japanese rider registered his closest podium performance at Jerez with a fourth-place result, so perhaps the Spanish sunshine will agree with him once again. Both Edwards and Crutchlow have also been steady top-10 performers, excepting last round at Le Mans, the French circuit proving troublesome to the Yamaha GP contingent.

Normally we’d add in Toni Elias as a wild card. The Catalan is another rider at home in Barcelona, and has proven quite good at shocking with his results on the Iberian Peninsula (Elias took his only MotoGP at Estoril in 2006). This year, however, the Moto2 champ is notably off the pace and has been the perennial backmarker of the MotoGP class. The LCR Honda rider will look to flip the competitive switch to on come Sunday afternoon.

On the tire news front: Bridgestone delivers an asymmetric rear tire compound to Catalunya, with a harder right-side compound teamed with a softer left. Offered in Medium and Hard, Bridgestone states the compounds are a step softer this year based off rider feedback from the 2010 Catalunya Grand Prix. The spec tire supplier returns the same front tire compounds, Medium and Hard, used at Jerez earlier this season.