Stoner wins MotoGP’s ‘phoney war’

Motorcycles

So that’s that, then – the final shots of the ‘phoney war’ were fired at Jerez last weekend. Now, finally, it’s time to look forward to the real thing.

There’s no doubt all the riders have got itchy throttle fingers, waiting for the red lights to go out at Losail on April 8, but none more so than reigning champ Casey Stoner. The Aussie always makes clear his disdain for testing. While other riders lobby for more time to develop their machines, Stoner hates riding round and round in circles. He’s a racer, red in tooth and claw, not an R&D dummy.

“One test is enough for me,” he says. “The more you go testing the more confusion you create. Going racing may be more stressful but it’s more enjoyable too.”

Nonetheless, the world champ’s progress aboard his new 1000cc Honda during preseason testing has been majestic: fastest at Sepang 1, fastest at Sepang 2 and fastest at Jerez where he left it till the last minute to better Jorge Lorenzo, surely his biggest rival once again. So even though Stoner wasn’t racing at Jerez, he still turned it into a race. And there’s nothing like leaving it to the last moment to surpass your rival, just like there’s nothing more crushing than passing him at the final corner.

Stoner knows that better than most. Asked why he had left it to the last minute, he grinned and said “I just wanted to be cheeky”.

In fact Stoner’s offseason progress hasn’t been entirely trouble-free. This year’s softer, friendlier Bridgestone slicks have infected his RC213V with front-end chatter – a chassis/tyre/suspension mismatch that can cause a catastrophic loss of grip at crucial moments. The RCV had it bad at Sepang and not so bad at Jerez. “It’s made things complicated and it could reappear anywhere,” he said.

Those words will be sweet music to Lorenzo’s ears. Not that the 2010 champion has had a bad preseason. Stoner may have had a few tenths on him but Lorenzo’s race pace is stunningly consistent. When it comes to jaw-dropping precision lap after lap after lap, no one comes close to the Spaniard. And Lorenzo is sure that Yamaha are closer to Honda than they were last year. Most importantly, he’s not had any front-end chatter. As usual, it seems like the Yamaha’s front end is better than the Honda’s.

Stoner and Lorenzo look like being the main men in 2012, with their team-mates Dani Pedrosa and Ben Spies in the mix too. Then there’s Cal Crutchlow on the Tech 3 Yamaha, running a slightly lower spec than the factory machines.

This season is crunch time for Crutchlow, as well as for his new team-mate Andrea Dovizioso. Tech 3 have already signed Bradley Smith for 2013, so either Crutchlow or Dovizioso will have to give way for the young Brit. So far Crutchlow has had the better of the Italian and if he keeps learning then a podium should hove into view at some point this season. He loves the 1000 – his Superbike-bred style suits the point-and-squirt 1000 much better than it did the corner-speed 800s.

Crutchlow makes up what he lacks in finesse with bravery. And he’s going to need plenty of that this year. Yamaha’s super-accurate simulation software calculates that the M1 will be knocking on 225mph at Mugello. Then consider the Honda and Ducati are usually quicker in a straight line. Scary.

Not everyone will be going that quick. The 2012 season welcomes a new breed of MotoGP bike, the budget-option, streetbike-powered CRT machines, which already make up almost half the grid. The slowest CRTs will get lapped but the fastest will snap at the tail pipes of the slower prototypes. And that includes Valentino Rossi if he doesn’t get the new Ducati fully up to speed.

At Jerez Randy de Puniet was the fastest CRT rider on his Aprilia ART. The ART is a World Superbike machine with a hand-made frame with revised geometry to get the best out of the Bridgestones. Basically, it’s a trick streetbike with a trick frame.

De Puniet and his ART were 1.8 seconds down on Stoner at Jerez. Some of that you could put down to riding talent and some more to the fact that the ART is still in its R&D phase. That’s impressive when you consider the bike costs around £600,000, which is the same as the Honda’s slick-shifter gearbox. Most if all, it’s a testament to the stunning performance of today’s streetbikes.

British ART rider James Ellison was further down the order than de Puniet, but his presence in MotoGP is significant because he’s riding for a British team, the first such outfit to compete in MotoGP for a decade. Poultry magnate Paul Bird has switched his team from WSB to MotoGP, determined to build a long-term future in the class. Rights-holders Dorna have been desperate to sign up a British team to bring on British riders.

“This year the plan is to learn about MotoGP and have a bit of fun, next year we will have two riders,” said Bird. “And we’ll be building a British chassis, probably with Barry Ward at GMS Technology, who used to make chassis for Team Roberts. I’m a bit of a patriot!”

 

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