Spanish riders Jorge Lorenzo (99) and Dani Pedrosa (26) arrive at Jerez the top riders in the MotoGP points.
MotoGP rolls into Jerez with some intriguing plot lines running in the Grand Prix soap opera. The first of four Spanish Grand Prix sees a pair of Spaniards atop the championship points standings. Jorge Lorenzo took the opening round victory at Qatar, with Dani Pedrosa claiming second. The two title front-runners will be stalked at Round 2 by reigning MotoGP champion, Casey Stoner, who looks to correct his win-less streak at the Jerez de la Frontera circuit. There’s also the matter of Valentino Rossi, whose post-Qatar frustration has dominated the GP news in the run-up to Jerez.
Lorenzo’s Qatar victory signals a promising return to title-winning form for the 2010 MotoGP champion. The Factory Yamaha ace came out on top of a three-rider thriller during the closing laps at Losail. Lorenzo looks to extend his points advantage at a circuit where he enjoys a two-year winning streak and three career podiums in the premier class.
The optimist says Lorenzo’s Qatar victory was the prelude to a brilliant title fight to come. The pessimist can argue Stoner just got arm pump. The Australian battled the persistent racer’s bane at Qatar, causing him to fade from first to third in the closing laps. Arm pump spoiled Stoner’s usually domineering Qatar opener, and now the Repsol ace heads to his bogey circuit. Stoner is winless at Jerez, and unlucky too. The Jerez jinx hit hard last year, when Stoner earned a DNF as collateral damage in a Rossi lowside. That DNF, by the way, was the last time Stoner finished off the MotoGP podium.
Luck notwithstanding, Stoner claims improvement of the arm pump issue, saying in team PR: “Since Qatar I’ve been working on the arm pump issue I experienced in the race and it’s definitely feeling better, we’ve treated it the same way as when I had it in 2010 at Silverstone so I’m hoping it won’t be a problem for us this weekend.”
Casey Stoner battled arm pump at Qatar and has had a history of poor luck at Jerez. Can the Australian overcome both to log his first win of 2012?
Stoner will have to net a 10-point gain on his rivals to wrest the title lead thanks to his teammate Pedrosa. The Spanish rider’s 2012 season began with the embarrassing news of an arrest for cheating on a yachting exam in his native Barcelona… The HMS Pedrosa scandal will fade further out to sea with a strong weekend at Jerez. Pedrosa has a stellar record at Jerez, with five second-place finishes and one victory there in his MotoGP career.
The media focus at Qatar – or at least immediately after Qatar – was Valentino Rossi’s public frustration with Ducati over the hapless GP12. The nine-time world champ vented criticism at Ducati after his disappointing 10th-place finish. The Doctor smoothed things out, somewhat, during last week’s Blancpain Endurance Series season opener at Monza – where he raced a Ferrari 458 to a 18th-place finish. There Rossi stated, to the Italian media, that he was committed to working with Ducati through 2012 – quashing rumors that he may try to split mid-season.
“I’ve always liked the Jerez track a lot, and we certainly must try to do better than in Qatar,” said Rossi in official team PR. Claiming to have found a “decent” setup at Jerez during preseason testing, Rossi continued. “It will be very important to work well during the Friday and Saturday practice sessions, focusing particularly on maintaining a good direction and on taking advantage of what we currently have to work with.”
That’s sober commentary in the world of team PR fodder, where cautious optimism is the rule. Rossi’s every comment will be scrutinized to the nth degree at Jerez. And as for Rossi’s Qatar comments, some of them have to stick in the craw of American teammate, Nicky Hayden. Implying that the GP12 is woeful because Rossi struggles to be the fastest Ducati, much less contend for a podium, doesn’t seem a sound prescription for team accord. The fact is Hayden has had better results than Rossi in 2012. Hayden also has a better track record at Jerez, at least with Ducati. Hayden netted his only 2011 podium at the Spanish circuit, while Rossi crashed out (taking Stoner with him).
The Rossi media dust-up overshadowed the most disappointing finish at Qatar – an 11th-place result from Factory Yamaha’s Ben Spies. The Texan ran into chatter issues at Losail and was the last-placed factory prototype on the grid. Not only was Spies shown up by the satellite Tech 3 Yamahas, he came dangerously close to being the first MotoGP rider to get beat by a CRT entry (fellow Texan Colin Edwards was within two seconds at the finish aboard his Forward Racing mount). Spies will be feeling the heat at Jerez.
The Tech 3 Yamaha boys, Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso, put on a terrific show at Qatar in a battle for fourth. The British rider appears reborn for 2012, showing top form in testing and his fourth-place finish at Qatar. Dovizioso was right there with his teammate in his first race aboard the Yamaha. A half-step off the factory Yamaha and Honda pace, the Tech 3 duo are ahead of the factory Ducatis and their satellite cohorts. A podium is within reach, particularly if the front-runners run into any issues.
Amongst the remaining satellite riders, rookie Stefan Bradl impressed on the LCR Honda. The 2011 Moto2 Champion ran strong in the opening laps behind the Tech 3 Yamahas, the German rider eventually yielding position to Hayden and fellow Honda man Alvaro Bautista to finish eighth. As for Bautista, the Gresini Honda rider had a good battle with Hayden at Qatar and will look to move up the pecking order on his home soil. Pramac Racing’s Hector Barbera is another Spaniard looking to impress, his Qatar performance marred by pushing Rossi off-track with an aggressive pass and later himself running off-track in the closing laps en route to a ninth-place result.
In the CRT field, Edwards piloted the BMW/Suter into parc ferme next to the factory podium as the top-placing CRT at Qatar. The 38-year-old had his former Tech 3 teammate Spies in his sights at the Qatar finish – very close to collecting the first factory scalp in 2012. Edwards outclassed the other expected CRT front-runner, Aspar Racing’s Randy de Puniet. The French rider crashed hard during practice and qualifying at Qatar, hindering performance in the 22-lap main event and finishing 12 seconds behind Edwards. Avintia Racing’s Yonny Hernandez was the next fastest CRT, a positive result considering the Kawasaki-powered Avintia’s poor testing performances.
The biggest CRT story at Qatar was what didn’t happen – lapped riders. Gresini Honda’s Michele Pirro finished seven-laps down owing to technical troubles, but the slowest CRT to finish, PBM’s James Ellision, finished on the lead lap and 1’51:882 behind Lorenzo. The fastest lap from the front-runners was Stoner at 1’55:541. Lappers could play a more significant role in the 27-lap main at Jerez.