Valentino Rossi in 2008 on his way to becoming the first rider to ever win a MotoGP race at The Brickyard.
The Brickyard. As one of the most iconic circuits in America, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway boasts over 100 years of racing history but is a relatively new addition to the MotoGP schedule. On September 14th, 2008 MotoGP riders, many who still contest the championship, took to the newly built 16-turn road circuit at the fabled venue and ran the first motorcycle race at Indy since the inaugural motorized event in 1909. Riding for the Fiat Yamaha Team, Valentino Rossi captured the win on his way to a sixth premier class title. He earned his final title to-date the following year and then fell, in 2010, to third overall behind his then teammate Jorge Lorenzo and Honda’s Dani Pedrosa. Since moving to Ducati in 2011, his performance has continued to slip and he currently sits eighth overall with just over half the season in the books.
The Doctor has been at the center of MotoGP news of late, announcing his plan to leave Ducati at the end of 2012 to enter a two-year contract with his former employer, Yamaha Factory Racing. Rossi will join former teammate and archrival Jorge Lorenzo to fill the vacant seat left by Ben Spies after the 2012 season is over. Rossi and Lorenzo had a strained relationship when Lorenzo joined Yamaha in 2008, a fact that contributed to Rossi’s leaving the Japanese marque in 2010. After news of the return of his former teammate was announced, Lorenzo addressed concerns regarding his and Rossi’s notorious enmity in an interview with the BBC, saying it has lessened in the past few years.
“We are both winning riders and neither wants to lose. I think our relationship has got better, though maybe it’s got better because we were in different teams. It’s a big motivation to have him back because I always like to have the best riders in my garage. Valentino is one of them. I assume trying to beat me will be a big motivation for him.”
Rossi will be just one rider among many trying to top Lorenzo in 2013 if he continues to ride as well as he has so far this year. Currently the 2010 GP champion sits first in overall points and has five wins to his credit. He fell short of victory in the previous round at Laguna Seca in dramatic fashion, holding the lead until Lap 21 when Repsol Honda’s Casey Stoner found the line to the front he’d been waiting for almost the entire race. Once in the lead, Stoner built a gap on Lorenzo that grew to over three seconds at the checkers. Lorenzo and Stoner each have wins at Indy, Lorenzo in 2009 and Stoner in 2011, but the Yamaha rider has the better overall record at the venue with two additional podium finishes to his credit.
“I really enjoy riding the Indy track, and have good memories here from my podiums in 2008 and 2010 and my great win in 2009. Last year I really struggled with grip in the race so I hope we can improve that this year. I’ve had a nice break but also been training to make sure I’m fit for this weekend.”
Stoner is less enthusiastic than Lorenzo about returning to The Brickyard.
“I’m not the biggest fan of Indy, mainly because we don’t go on the historical track but the infield and in the wrong direction,” said the defending world champion. “The track is very flat and plain, also very tight. There are a couple of corners that can be fun but the majority are difficult, tight and there isn’t any natural flow to the track.”
Lorenzo’s teammate Ben Spies, on the other hand, is excited to ride at Indy as it’s the site where he earned his first GP podium. It’s also a chance for the American to perform in front of his home crowd once more this season. Spies has faced a number of difficulties this year, marked by numerous mechanical issues, crashes and combinations of the two, and has yet to earn a podium. At Laguna Seca his trouble continued when a swingarm failure sent him off his bike at the top of The Corkscrew, ending his hopes of a top-three finish in the first of two American rounds. This could possibly be the Texan’s final ride at Indy aboard a GP bike as he’s announced his plan to leave Yamaha at the end of the season. He’s yet to reveal his plans for 2013, but rumors place him back in World Superbike, possibly riding with BMW.
“It’s going to be great to get out in front of all the US fans again, I love racing in America, the reception is always awesome,” said Spies. “Indy is a track we go well at, and is pretty special to me for my first GP podium. I’m hoping we can make it three years in a row on the podium here.”
“In these two weeks I was able to relax a little, enjoy time with friends and get back into my training,” said Pedrosa. “At this time of year, Indianapolis is normally very hot so fitness is always key.”
Stoner’s teammate Dani Pedrosa has fared well at Indy also. In 2010 he took the win with the Repsol Honda team and in 2011 finished second. The Spaniard is currently second in overall points and has taken podiums in every event besides Le Mans where he finished fourth. His consistency this year has given him confidence to approach every track in the final half of the season in stride.
“This year we are all doing very well at every circuit —at those which we like and those which we don’t,” said Pedrosa in a recent interview. “I think this will continue and that it won’t be tracks that make the difference. You can’t make mistakes and the winner will be whoever commits the least errors.”
Trailing the major factory contenders in points, as well as in most races, are Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow, who sit fourth and fifth respectively. Dovi has been the most successful of the two satellite Yamaha riders, making the podium four times this year. He’s yet to break past third place, but is the second most successful Yamaha rider on the grid behind Lorenzo in light of Spies’ up-and-down season. Crutchlow has finished as high as fourth, but has faced more difficulty on track than Dovizioso, coming off the bike a number of times. His most memorable performance came in front of his home crowd at Silverstone, where just moments before the race he was cleared to ride after fracturing his ankle during practice. He charged from the last spot on the grid to finish in sixth.
Dovizioso has the more successful record at Indy and has been in GP competition at the venue since racing started there in 2008, but Crutchlow is hungry for his first MotoGP podium and will be pushing hard to get past his teammate to contend for a top-three finish.
Andrea Dovizioso (4), Cal Crutchlow (35) and Stefan Bradl (6) battling in a close match at Laguna Seca.
Trailing the Tech 3 duo in points is GP rookie Stefan Bradl of LCR Honda. The 2011 Moto 2 champion has finished inside the top ten in every race of his young premier class career, continued at Laguna Seca when he took seventh. He is currently tied with Ducati’s Nicky Hayden at 84 after the American bested Bradl by one position in the previous round. The past two years at Indy have not been kind to Hayden, with a 14th place finish in 2011 and a sixth in 2010 after taking second in 2008 and third in 2009. He’s optimistic about his home race though and expects a big result on Sunday.
“Laguna was fun, but Indy is really my home GP, just across the state line from Kentucky,” said Hayden. “We struggled more at Laguna than I expected, but Indy is much faster, with more opportunities to open the throttle. It should be nice to ride that track on the 1000s, and it will be fun for the American fans to really get to see them in action. I hope to be competitive starting on Friday, and I’ll definitely be disappointed if we don’t get the best result of the season so far.”
Rossi sits behind his teammate in points in eighth overall and San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Alvaro Bautista is an additional point behind in ninth. Bautista has been at least 10th or better in every race he’s completed, retiring only once at Assen when he and Lorenzo collided, forcing both riders out of the competition. The final factory rider, Pramac Racing’s Hector Barbera, holds to 11th overall. It seemed as if the Ducati rider would miss Indy to continue rehabilitating the broken fibula and tibia he sustained in training before Laguna Seca. According to a recent Pramac Racing PR, Barbera’s condition has improved significantly and just four weeks after an operation to rebuild his broken leg, he is going to take a shot at riding in the Indianapolis GP. Toni Elias, the rider who filled in for Barbera at Laguna Seca, will be on hand in case Barbera finds he’s not up to the task.
The CRT field will see one more additional rider at Indy, a second wildcard entry from Indiana-based company GPTech. At Laguna Seca, Steve Rapp was the only CRT wildcard and attempted to qualify for the competition aboard the newly built Attack Performance CRT machine but was unable to make it to the main event. Rapp will return to contest Indy and Aaron Yates will be at the helm of the GPTech machine, powered by a modified Suzuki GSX-R1000 engine encased in a custom designed chassis.
Power Electronics Aspar’s Randy de Puniet leads the standing CRT field in points at 12th overall, but is tied mathematically with teammate Aleix Espargaro who sits 13th. San Carlo Honda Gresini’s CRT rider Michele Pirro trails in 14th and Speed Master’s Mattia Pasini is 15th. American GP veteran Colin Edwards of NGM Mobile Forward Racing is 17th behind Paul Bird Motorsports’ James Ellison.
The fifth MotoGP contest at Indianapolis Motor Speedway starts Friday August 17th with two free practice rounds and continues through the weekend with the main event on Sunday.