MotoGP: Misano 2012
Dude! Where's my.... ART? - Spoken by Colin Edwards after a less than stellar test aboard Mattia Passini's CRT machine. The former Yamaha rider was pegged as the one to watch during the class' inaugural year after a successful career with Yamaha. Formerly a factory Yamaha teammate to Valentino Rossi, Edwards later made the switch to a Tech 3 ride along side James Toseland, Cal Crutchlow and Ben Spies. In his final year with the satellite Yamaha squad Edwards was still on pace to score podiums despite serious shoulder injury that side-lined him for the race before. Yet in 2012 Edwards has visibly struggled to tame the BMW-Suter pairing. In typical Edwards fashion he colorfully referred to the bike as poo (and we're not talking Winnie here) and said that the bike they were promised before the season started was definitely not the one that he was riding. It was therefore something of a shock when he circulated notably slower aboard the Aprilia machine than he did on the BM-Suter bike. Edwards attributed the discrepancy to illness and unfamiliarity with the bike, stating that his focus had been getting comfortable with the ergonomics and power characteristics. He did note that it was very similar to Yamaha's M1 on which he enjoyed year's of success. Yet despite his willingness to proceed with a switch the status of his machine availability this weekend remains in doubt. Edwards is still not confirmed for an ART replacement though he is making a hard push for one. Whether he will start at Misano on an Aprilia, and more importantly whether the switch will catapult him towards the front of at least the CRT race, is one of the burning questions of the series. Contract? - Johnny Rea would probably never make such an open demand, but he's more than hinted at it. It has been years since Rea has manhandled the Honda CBR1000RR around the WSBK calendar, winning occassionally, crashing often and being a constant threat to all around him always. Riding an underdeveloped bike against a field of well funded factory teams requires a very careful balance on the razor's edge of machine and rider ability, and like any competitor in the situation Johnny has sometimes been cut. Yet in 2012 the pain and sacrifice has paid off and Rea has been rewarded with testing and wildcard rides in MotoGP to replace the injured Casey Stoner. This means that Rea will have an insane schedule for the next month, either racing or competitively testing in one of the two series every weekend. A time in the 1:59s during the Brno tests puts Rea almost 3 seconds behind the leading prototype of Cal Crutchlow, but still ahead of the CRT entrants. This bodes well for the English rider, particularly considering the short rest period that he had before the race - having stepped off the tarmac and onto the race track. A good showing in his entries starting at Misano may galvanize the sponsorship and corporate support that he needs to secure a more permanent ride in 2013. Despite the career-changing potential, however, Rea is working on maintaining a low profile and minimizing the pressure on himself to get the best result possible. Motor? - Or "damned motor!?!?!" as the case may be. It is not hard to picture a certain Italian hurling choice expletives with the question. It has been months, the better part of a season, since Ducati promised a revised engine to implement requests by Rossi and team "by Laguna Seca" (on their revised plan). After further delay and internet speculation all news regarding the project went dark. The Italian factory chose to conduct a private test a Misano in place of the group test the result of which is a new chassis - frame and swingarm - that will debut this weekend at the Misano round of MotoGP. Rossi described the test with an enigmatic, "... the results were interesting...". That he went on to say that they must be tested against his competitors could indicate that the revised chassis, which is based heavily on a previous revision and testing, goes further to giving him the feedback that he needs to perform at the top level. Filippo Preziosi, Ducati's Technical Director, indicated that a new test and development plan had been formulated in June following the team's testing in Aragon. In any event, the new motor seems to be mothballed in favor of a different evolutionary line. How big an impact it will make before the Italian moves back to Yamaha is probably the other burning question of the weekend. Mojo? - It has been a long, hard road in 2012 for Ben Spies and nobody outside of the Yamaha garage can seem to grasp why. The former WSBK champion had a tough start to international competition. After dominating in the AMA national championships the Texan rider enjoyed a handful of successful rides with Rizla Suzuki but found himself struggling to secure a permanent ride in the top class. With Ducati giving the likely reason why, stating that they found his asking price excessive, Elbowz finally accepted a position on the Yamaha factory squad in WSBK with an optional promotion to MotoGP based on performance; and what a performance it was. With zero track knowledge and little experience with international travel Spies trounced a much more experience field en route to a rookie championship that shocked the motorcycling world. He followed this up with a Rookie of the Year performance aboard the Tech 3 Yamaha, gaining the podium on more than one occassion despite the age and lack of development of his steed. He followed again in 2011 by becoming the only non-alien to win a dry race since.... Well since there were aliens. Then inexplicably he fell flat on his face in competition. His testing results were good, but they simply have not translated on race day. While some wrote off his early complaints of mechanical failure as excuses, later events in the season have given graphic indication that something is simply not right with his side of the garage. On more than one occassion his bike has simply imploded in spectacular fashion, most disappointingly at Indannapolis where - having been given leeway to run his own preferred settings - Spies became embroiled in a bitter fight with Dani Pedrosa for the lead. Spies appeared to be getting the upper hand before falling backwards, again, moments before the engine of the M1 ate itself. Theories such as crashes during practice have been bandied about, however Lorenzo has suffered his share of crashes during practice as well - most other top riders have - without the effects carrying over to the race. Speculation has been rampant about why Spies' factory Yamaha has been so error prone while even the customer bikes of Tech 3 are not; and perhaps that is exactly the problem - Spies bike is a factory bike. Specifically, it is the 2nd Yamaha factory bike. One point that is not often mentioned in this context is that the factory Yamaha squad is the only top team without a title sponsor. Both the factory and satellite teams of Ducati and Honda all have title sponsors, as does the Monster Tech Tois satellite Yamaha. Yamaha has been burning through their personal coffers to keep the GP effort going and maintain Lorenzo's championship hopes. If, in the tightening global economy, someone or something on the team has to suffer it would certainly be Ben Spies. Regardless of the cause, from friction with a caustic team manager to a decrease in support from economic constraints, Spies is now considering several offers for 2013 with an eye on reclaiming what he has almost lost in 2012. The once quietly confident young man who shot guns with and headlocked his chief rival for a photo opportunity is now despondent and reserved in his press meetings. If the promise of a more competitive ride in the future can be realized, we may see a taste of a different Ben Spies this weekend.
Respect? - Dani Pedrosa showed the world why he has maintained a strong position with the Repsol Honda team for 6 years despite a career plauged with injury each season. In a stoic race marked by subtle race craft, he battled with championship leader Jorge Lorenzo across the miles in a chess match that could have been played with knives. After following Lorenzo for half the race, Pedrosa pounced to the lead and made a break for checkered flag but was unable to shake Lorenzo. The two remained in formation for the second half of the race, Lorenzo trying different lines to pass but Pedrosa blocking and then using the grunt of the Honda to power away. What the Honda lacked in precise cornering ability it made up for in push from the corners, leaving a frustrated Lorenzo with half a race to figure out how to negate the positives of the RC213V. Then on the last lap he made his move, diving to the inside with mere corners to go and standing Pedrosa up in a hard but fair pass. That move has guaranteed him the victory on any day, except that one. With an uphill race to victory, Pedrosa slotted in behind Lorenzo for a brief draft, slipped out for a wider line and blasted to the front to take the checkers. With a second win in a row, Pedrosa reduces the championship gap to a mere 13 points with 5 rounds and 125 points still up for grabs. Lorenzo can be counted on for a strong showing after a successful test of Yamaha's new chassis however Pedrosa can hone in on the chink in Lorenzo's armor that has relegated him to runner up on past occassion. Still the Spaniard will be fighting his own internal demon's, the RC being notably unstable at the circuit due to variable grip levels and an uneven track surface. If he can overcome these and take the fight to Lorenzo again, he may find himself closer to his first GP championship than at any other time in his career.