The new Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas will play host to Round 2 of the 2013 MotoGP championship.
In less than a week the premier motorcycle road-race series in the world will begin under the lights at Losail in Qatar. The 2013 MotoGP season will undoubtedly benefit from a number of plotlines that have the potential to make this one of the most compelling years of competition in recent memory. An expanded presence in America at the already contentious Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas; the absence of one of the most talented riders in the sport, Casey Stoner; rookie riders finding pace within the top-10 through pre-season testing, and one, Marc Marquez, looking to have the skill to actually contend for race wins; and, of course, Valentino Rossi back aboard the Yamaha after his dismal two-year stint with Ducati.
In December of 2012, The Grand Prix Commission announced several changes to regulations that may play a part in the upcoming season. A penalty points system is now in place, giving Race Direction the authority to sanction riders with points ranging from one to 10, with particular penalties levied at the four, seven and 10-point marks. Once a rider has amassed four points, he will start the next race from the rear of the grid; at seven points he will start the next race from pit lane and once a rider reaches 10 points, he’s disqualified from the next event. This change was made because of the “need to address the problem of riders who are constantly being warned or penalized for endangering other riders or committing other serious offences like assaulting marshals or other officials,” according to MotoGP PR.
Qualifying procedures are also changed. The 107 percent rule designates that riders must achieve “a time better than 107 percent of the fastest rider in any of the four free practice sessions.” The 10 fastest riders from combined practice time immediately move on to the second round of qualifying, whereas the remaining riders in the field will battle to fill the grid from position 13 down. The top-two riders from Q1 join in Q2, in which pole position will be decided.
Carbon composite wheels are not permitted and CRT machines lose the ability to use brake discs of a different diameter than 320mm. 2013 will also be the final year before an ECU and datalogger are provided by the Championship organizers, the use of which will be mandatory.
GP Team Shuffle
Yamaha Factory Racing welcomes Valentino Rossi back to the paddock for 2013. The Doctor logged seven years with the tuning fork brand before his move to Ducati for the 2011 season, and in that time with Yamaha amassed four GP titles. His two years aboard the Duc proved to be the worst of his GP career, grabbing a 7th overall in 2011 and a 6th in 2012, though in pre-season testing on the M1, he has already hovered consistently within the top-five lap times. The last time he was on a Yamaha at Qatar he took the race win, back in 2010, one of only two wins he earned that season.
Many of the wins in 2010 went to Rossi’s then teammate and arch-rival, Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo went on to grab his first GP title that year, followed by a second-place overall finish in 2011 and another title in 2012. During the first four years the two rode together as teammates, Lorenzo was the young up-and-comer, seeking a place among titans, the largest of which reigned on the opposite side of the garage. In 2013, Lorenzo is considered by many the favorite to win the title once again as he is riding better than ever in his career. The Mallorcan took the win at Qatar in 2012 and followed that up with a string of first and second place finishes, crashing out of Assen when hit by Alvaro Bautista and in the final round at Valencia when he hit a wet patch on track which caused him to high-side out of competition. Beside the two anomalies listed, Lorenzo was nearly flawless in his consistency with the M1 in 2012, and he’s already shown similar speed and control in pre-season testing.
The most likely challengers to the Factory Yamaha run for the championship will come from Repsol Honda. Dani Pedrosa put forth a valiant effort in 2012, notching seven wins and a host of podiums, falling short of Lorenzo by 18 points in the final tally. It was the Spaniard’s best season of his career, but he continues to be plagued by the failure to secure a title over seven GP championship seasons. He left off the final day of preseason testing at Jerez due to the questionable weather, but also cited neck pain as a reason too. Only time will tell whether this pain will factor into his performance during the season, but his confidence is as high as ever, leaving off the final day of testing confident that his RC213V is dialed to perfection for the season opener in Qatar.
Pedrosa’s new teammate and replacement to the now retired Casey Stoner is former Moto2 champion Marc Marquez. Marquez won five Moto2 races in 2012 with final lap passes, and was always aggressive on track, earning more than one censure from Race Direction during the season. He nabbed the Moto 2 title in 2012, and took the 125cc title in 2010. Though his performance in a GP race is still a looming question, his ability to handle the RC213V is not. During preseason testing Marquez quickly grew accustomed to the bigger machine, and posted lap times well within the top-three in a number of sessions. Though there are some big names with much more experience in premier-class competition, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Marquez take the top step at some point during the 2013 season.
Factory Ducati returns with long-time Desmosedici rider Nicky Hayden, who will be joined by veteran Andrea Dovizioso. Both will pilot the GP13, the newest iteration of a bike that, to this point, has only earned a GP title under Stoner. Hayden enters his eleventh year in the series, his fifth consecutive with Ducati, and will be fighting to make up for an unlucky 2012 season. Last year marked the first season since 2003 that Hayden failed to make a GP podium and a big crash during practice at Indianapolis sidelined the American rider for two rounds. Dovi begins his first of two years with Ducati in 2013, following a 2012 season that saw him take fourth overall with Monster Yamaha Tech 3, his first and only year in GP riding for the tuning fork brand. 2013 also marks the first year Ducati will run under the ownership of Audi, which may prove to be a boon to the Italian marque as they endeavor to assemble a bike that can consistently compete with Yamaha and Honda.
2013 Team Tech 3 Yamaha with Bradley Smith (left) and Cal Crutchlow (right) and their tireless crews.
Dovi’s teammate from 2012, Cal Crutchlow, remains with Monster Yamaha Tech 3 and is joined by fellow Brit, Bradley Smith, the ninth-place overall finisher in Moto2 in 2012. Crutchlow finished the 2012 season in seventh overall, earning two third-place finishes during the year. This year marks his third in the GP series, and he’s expected to be one of the strongest satellite riders on the grid. Smith rode for Tech 3 in Moto2 during 2011 and 2012, but never broke the top-five overall either year. His demonstrated potential was enough to win the empty seat on the satellite team though, and he’s one of the riders on the grid with the most potential to improve over 2013.
Stefan Bradl continues to man the LCR Honda satellite team alone in 2013, and he’ll likely be in the mix in the top-10 through most rounds, as he was in 2012. Preseason testing has revealed some difficulties with his set-up, but the German rider remains confident that he’ll score his first GP podium in 2013. Go & Fun Honda Gresini’s Alvaro Bautista will also pilot a satellite RC213V in 2013, marking his fourth year in MotoGP competition. 2012 saw Bautista earn his first trips to the podium, with a third-place finish at Misano and at Sepang. He’s already experienced some trouble in 2013 though, crashing during preseason testing and injuring his knee at Jerez.
The satellite Ducati squad, featuring Ignite Pramac Racing pilot Ben Spies and Energy T.I. Pramac Racing’s Andrea Iannone, will work to dial in their own GP13’s during the 2013 season. Spies rode alongside Lorenzo in 2012 with Factory Yamaha, but had an infinitely frustrating year, marked by multiple crashes, mechanical issues and a final wreck in Malaysia that left him with injuries that plague him still. The American rider limped through preseason testing, taking ample time to rest his shoulder in order to be ready for Qatar. Iannone finished third overall the past three years in Moto2 and marks 2013 as his first outing in the premier class.
Ben Spies will try to find his way to the podium on his new Ignite Pramac Racing Ducati in 2013.
Karel Abraham will contest the 2013 MotoGP season aboard an Aprilia ART machine.
There are some new faces among the CRT classes as well. Riding the Go & Fun Honda Gresini FTR Honda is Bryan Staring, the 2010 Australian Rider of the Year who moves up to MotoGP from the FIM Superstock 1000 class in World Superbike. Michael Laverty is another MotoGP rookie, picked to ride the Paul Bird Motorsport ART/PBM machine alongside teammate, Yonny Hernandez in 2013. Laverty has contested British Superbike and British Supersport, AMA Superbike and certain rounds in World Supersport while Hernandez enters MotoGP for his second year in 2013.
Cardion AB Motoracing’s Karel Abraham will start his third year in MotoGP in 2013, his first on a CRT mount after moving from Ducati after the 2012 season. This year, Abraham will pilot an Aprilia ART in hopes of a better overall finish from the previous championship where he ended in 14th.
The top CRT finisher in 2012, Aleix Espargaro, returns with Power Electronics Aspar, as does his teammate, Randy de Puniet. Both will ride aboard an ART GP13 machine.
The Avintia Blusens team will utilize a BQR-FTR bike with a Kawasaki engine as riders Hector Barbera and Hiroshi Aoyama prepare to battle for the team. Barbera contested the 2012 MotoGP season with Pramac Racing on the Ducati GP12 and finished 11th overall, while Aoyama rode for Ten Kate Honda in World Superbike. Disappointing results in the WSBK championship led Aoyama to seek a return to MotoGP, where he competed in 2010 and 2011.
Czech rider Lukas Pesek joins the Came IodaRacing Project alongside Danilo Petrucci and the two riders will fight for glory on the Ioda-Suter bike powered by a BMW Inline-Four 999cc engine. American Colin Edwards returns with NGM Mobile Forward Racing and will ride alongside new teammate, Claudio Corti, to see if the switch from 2012’s BMW-Suter machine to 2013’s FTR-Kawasaki mount will improve overall performance during the season.
The 18-round season kicks off in Qatar for the seventh consecutive year and is the only round to run at night under the lights, a tradition that started in 2008. It’s a fast-paced circuit that can prove to be tricky, thanks to the sand that blows in and settles on track. The season opener will air on SPEED and live streaming is available through MotoGP.com. Check back at MotorcycleUSA all season long for race reports, photos and in-depth analysis and be sure to sign up for MotoUSA’s Fantasy GP racing for a chance to win a VIP vacation package to the Laguna Seca GP in July.