Casey Stoner figures to be smiling throughout 2012 on the Respol Honda - the 26-year-old Australian already looking strong for his title defense.
Honda campaigns the 2012 season with its V-Four-powered RC213V. Big Red's title hopes are as strong as ever thanks to Casey Stoner. The defending champ arrives at Qatar the favorite, having logged impressive performances throughout the preseason. However, in terms of overall manpower, Honda is weaker compared to 2011 as the factory HRC roster has been halved for 2012. Honda lost Gresini Honda’s Marco Simoncelli with his tragic death at Sepang. HRC also cast off the third wheel at Repsol, Andrea Dovizioso. The team returns this season with Stoner and Pedrosa on the Repsol squad and all-new Honda riders in the satellite seats – Alvaro Bautista with Gresini and MotoGP rookie Stefan Bradl on the LCR Honda.
#1 Casey Stoner – 2011 MotoGP Champion – 10 wins/16 podiums/12 poles:
The 2007 MotoGP champ cruised to the 2011 title via 10 wins and 16 podiums. Stoner ran up at the front before the start last season thanks to HRC's super-secret transmission, which left the competition scrambling for an answer. This preseason the Hondas haven’t been quite as dominant. In fact, all the Hondas were sidelined for a full day at the Sepang test for undisclosed engine issues. Stoner has been less than fit too, throwing out his back at Sepang as well. Despite those hiccups, Stoner is consistently a pace ahead of his rivals – routinely peeling off blistering laps to top timesheets.
Perhaps the best measure of Stoner’s control, and a prelude to the 2012 campaign, came during the final day of preseason testing at the Jerez circuit. While his Yamaha rival, Jorge Lorenzo, led through the majority of the sessions, Stoner went out in the closing minutes and bested the Spaniard on his final lap. Mentally Stoner will be strong, confident of the Honda. And where some GP stars have made off-season drama with training injuries, or other scandals (see Captain Pedrosa below…), Stoner’s off-season plot line was the happy news of the birth of his first child. MotoGP champion in the first and final seasons of the 800 era, Stoner will be the man to beat in 1000cc season one.
#26 Dani Pedrosa – 4th MotoGP 2011 – 3 wins/9 podiums/2 poles:
Season 7 in MotoGP sees Pedrosa once again on the Repsol Honda. Can the Spaniard make a title breakthough in 2012?
Pedrosa begins season number seven in the premier class, all with Repsol Honda. A perennial title contender, the three-time world champion (2004, 2005 250 GP; 2003 125 GP) has yet to earn the premier class championship. Last season seemed promising, until a controversial collision with Marco Simoncelli at Le Mans left Pedrosa with a broken collarbone. Despite the injury, Pedrosa managed a trio of wins and nine podiums en route to fourth in the championship.
Pedrosa has run into some issues in the 2012 preseason, with an engine problem on his RC213V necessitating the aforementioned Sepang testing halt for the Honda teams (while HRC diagnosed the issue). Also, Pedrosa is the focus of a bizarre scandal heading into the Qatar opener. The Repsol rider was reportedly arrested by Spanish authorities
for cheating on a yachting license test… The April Fools-like story elicited a published apology from Pedrosa through his lawyer. It’s an odd comedic image for Pedrosa, who is usually percieved as a taciturn robot.
Alvaro Bautista moves from the now defunct Suzuki MotoGP program to pilot Gresini Honda's lone RC213V.
Now 26, Pedrosa needs to turn his coveted HRC seat into a title winner – something his Repsol teammates have done twice (Stoner 2011, Hayden 2006) during his GP tenure. The diminutive Spaniard has proven a tough competitor, fighting through injury. Provided he doesn’t have to sail away from the coppers on HMS Pedrobot, expect Pedrosa to be a title contender once again.
#19 Alvaro Bautista – 11th MotoGP 2011 – 0 wins/0 podiums/0 poles
Bautista gets the unenviable task of replacing the deceased Marco Simoncelli on the San Carlo Honda Gresini Team. The Spanish rider’s first two seasons in MotoGP were laudable efforts on the ill-fated Suzuki GSV-R. Last season the 2006 125 GP champion ran a completely solo effort, which was hindered by a broken leg at the Qatar opener. Bautista’s best results last year was a front-row start at the season finale, with a handful of top-10 results to his credit. Expect better results on the satellite Honda.
#6 Stefan Bradl – 2011 Moto2 Champion – 4 wins/11 podiums/7 poles
The 2011 Moto2 Champion, Stefan Bradl, will vie for MotoGP Rookie of the Year honors on the LCR Honda.
The lone German to compete in the MotoGP series this season, Bradl graduates from the Moto2 class. Lucio Cecchinello’s LCR Honda squad has showcased up-and-coming GP talent on more than one occasion, serving as the rookie launching pads for MotoGP regulars Andrea Dovizioso and Casey Stoner. Bradl earned his ticket to the premier class after taking the Moto2 title. While the championship win owes much to Moto2 rival Marc Marquez (Repsol) sitting out the closing rounds with injury, Bradl has title-winning confidence to boost his rookie campaign.