The 2012 MotoGP season
kicks into gear this week with testing at the Sepang circuit. This year marks a new era in the premier class, with 1000cc factory bikes competing along-side the novel CRT formula of prototype chassis powered by production-based engines. The 2012 season already has a number of intriguing plotlines heading into Sepang, not the least of which being the return of Grand Prix racing to the site of Marco Simoncelli’s death. Here’s what to watch out for at Sepang.
Ducati Debuts Latest GP12
Number 46 gets his first crack at a new GP12 during the Sepang test. Will it be enough to get Rossi back to form? (photo from 2011 Sepang Grand Prix)
Most of the offseason GP chatter has revolved around Ducati’s Desmosedici. The latest version of its GP12 has been much talked about, but not seen by the public until today. Notably absent from the factory squad’s annual off-season Wrooom festivities, the GP12 that will debut at Sepang is promised to be a significant redesign of previous incarnations tested by Valentino Rossi
Ducati test rider Franco Battani and reigning World Superbike Champion Carlos Checa conducted shakedown tests of the new aluminum-framed bike earlier this month. Shortly thereafter, Karel Abraham’s Cardion AB squad spilled some technical beans when it released spec sheet claims of 250 horsepower and 223.7 mph top speed, as well as confirming a 90-degree Vee angle.
Now the day before the Sepang tests and The Doctor himself has sent out a grainy sneak peek of his 2012 mount. Rossi and teammate Nicky Hayden will get to finally sample Bologna’s feverish winter work. The Ducati can’t hide any longer and Sepang will see the new Duc benchmarked against the Yamaha and Honda 1000cc rides. Also testing at Sepang will be Abraham and fellow satellite rider, Pramac Racing’s Hector Barbera.
Honda Number 1
Casey Stoner never really looked back from the 2011 preseason tests, the Australian topping the charts and cruising to his second title in the premier class.
HRC arrives at Sepang with the number-1 plate courtesy of Casey Stoner. The Australian set the tone for its 2012 campaign by dominating the pre-season tests. Last year HRC engineering wizardry, in the form of a new transmission, had the other factories scrambling for answers. Can Honda and Stoner continue to set the pace early in 2012?
Stoner carries the HRC banner alongside Dani Pedrosa, the Spaniard now in his seventh year with the Repsol Honda team. And while Honda still retains perhaps the most potent 1-2 punch in Stoner and Pedrosa, its 2012 roster is not as deep. The official factory Honda juggernaut has been halved this season as Andrea Dovizioso (the third 2011 Repsol rider) migrated to the satellite Tech 3 Yamaha squad. Gresini Honda’s Simoncelli, a de facto fourth factory rider in 2011, of course tragically perished at Sepang during the Malaysian GP.
Stoner and Pedrosa are the only familiar faces at Honda, with the remaining two RC213V seats are filled by new riders. Alvaro Bautista will pilot the lone RC213V in the Gresini Honda garage, meanwhile Moto2 champion Sefan Bradl campaigns the LCR Honda in his rookie season.
Yamaha Sponsorless No More
Opening the 2012 tests Yamaha finally announced a sponsorship for its factory effort. No longer will Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies be campaigning for the generic Yamaha Factory Racing Team, now it’s JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corporation Yamaha… or something to that effect. Lorenzo mounted the closest challenge to Stoner in 2011 and figures to be lead contender in ’12 too. But the Yamaha struggled to keep up with Stoner and Honda at times last season, so seeing how the two Japanese 1000cc bikes benchmark in preseason tests will be closely watched.
Ben Spies gets another crack at the 1000cc M1 when testing commences at the Sepang circuit tomorrow. The factory Yamahas now enjoy the support of an official sponsor in JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corporation .
The addition of Dovizioso on the Tech 3 squad has interesting ramifications for this season and beyond. The Italian has plenty to prove in 2012, as he fights to regain a factory seat after placing third overall the 2011 championship. The presence of Dovizioso squeezes a little extra pressure on the factory boys too. Sepang will see the Italian on-track for the first time since breaking his collarbone during an off-season motocross accident. Dovizioso teams up with 2011 MotoGP Rookie of the Year Cal Crutchlow.
Colin Edwards will test the Forward Racing BMW/Suter CRT bike at Sepang. The last time the Texas Tornado paid a visit to Malaysia he was injured in the same collision that claimed Simoncelli’s life.
Joining Edwards in the CRT field at Sepang is Avintia/BQR racing. The team will bring three test riders to the three-day test, with Roberto Pietri, Jordi Torres and Ivan Silva. The Kawasaki/FTR CRT squad will support two full-time riders in 2012. One of those expected riders, Yonny Hernandez, will be absent the test, ostensibly to recover from a hand injury though it is reported that the Colombian is struggling with a lack of sponsorship. The same issue saw Anthony West recently replaced on the Speed Master CRT
by Italian Mattia Pasini.
As for the remaining CRT bikes, technically the 2012 testing is already underway. A trio of Aprilia-powered CRT is testing at the Valencia circuit. The Aspar duo of Randy de Puniet and Aleix Expargaro are turning laps along with Speed Master’s new rider, Passini.