MotoGP: 2013 Round 05 - Gran Premio d'Italia
In The Hot Seat Maria Herrera - Don't know the name? You might just have to learn it. It should come as no surprise to read that motorcycle racing is a male dominated sport. Both inside and out of the garage, compelling female figures are hard to find unless you peek under an umbrella or pay close attention to the members of the pit crew. However there are signs that this trend is changing. At the grass roots level, female racers are becoming more common in local series' the world over. A notable few, such as the US' own Melissa Paris, have made limited appearances on a more international level but the overall result has been mixed at best. Enter Maria Herrera, the Spanish sensation who put her name in the history books as the first woman to grace the top step in Moto3. The true test for young Maria, though, is yet to come. While she has tasted the fruit of victory, she must now push on duplicate that result many times over to truly open the door for others. That's a tall order in a climate of shrinking support and smaller grids, however for the young and brave of heart the challenge may just be accepted. Dani Pedrosa - Things are looking good for Dani Pedrosa after a dominant win in France. Leading teammate Marquez by 6 points and defending champion Lorenzo by a healthy 17, the Repsol Honda rider looks set to take control of what has been a topsy-turvy season thus far. While Pedrosa ended 2012 runner up to Lorenzo, last season closed on somewhat of a high for the Spanish rider as he surged to win after win. Had he started 2012 in the same form that he finished, the championship standing may have looked quite different. Now only 4 races in, Pedrosa has already gained the championship lead on an RC213V that looks every bit dominant racer that Honda could have hoped for. Chasing his first ever championship in the premier class, and with an unexpectedly strong teammate for competition, one would expect Pedrosa to be sweating under the pressure. To the contrary, however, Honda's de-facto lead rider strives to remain calm as the weekend approaches, relishing a well earned position on the leader board. After a brilliant ride in the wet, Pedrosa will be looking to drive the point home to the field and sponsors that he is still every bit of an alien. Cal Crutchlow - Second place in a MotoGP race is nothing to sneeze at. Second place on a satellite bike in a series where only 4 factory bikes seem to have any real shot at winning is sure to raise eyebrows and attract some well deserved attention. So it has come to be that Crutchlow's name seems to be at the tip of everyone's tongue regarding placement in 2013. While Crutchlow has been decidedly vocal concerning his desire for a factory ride, his biggest problem right now is the lack of availability. Honda and Yamaha, the two dominant factories right now, have two each and all four seats are spoken for in 2014. This only leaves Ducati and he's already made a play there. He may have a dog in the fight should the factory fail to renew Nicky Hayden's contract, however he would need to resign himself to a) reprising his role as Dovizioso's teammate and b) joining the least competitive of the active manufacturers as shows by Dovi's results to date. There is also the option of Suzuki, should they meet Dorna's requirements for competing as a factory, however the GSV as last raced was hardly a front runner and after several years off Suzuki is even further behind the 8-ball. Whether they can return with a competitive bike is a matter of much conjecture. In the end, any move from Cal is as much a matter of what he is willing to give up as what he might gain. The Manufacturers - Cost cutting is positively rampant in MotoGP, as well it should be. Despite a global recession and shrinking monetary support available to riders and teams, even second tier satellite rides are reported to cost in the neighborhood of millions with dubious returns on the investment. Though the big two scoffed at the idea of a CRT racer, GP exile Aprilia leapt at the chance to provide a turn key racer and developed their ART project from the skeleton of the WSBK championship winning RSV4 Factory. Now, for a significant fraction of the cost of a "prototype" teams have the option of racing in the GP class for roughly the same positions that they would otherwise fight for and even knock on the doors of the much more expensive factory prototypes. Yamaha's response to Dorna's desire for a cost effective grid has been to offer a leased version of its M1 engine to teams that provide their own chassis. The caveat, however, is that since the engine will be very close in spec to the satellite Yamaha's and the engines themselves will be leased, teams will not be considered part of the CRT sub-class should they choose this option. However they would be, by admission of Yamaha, even further removed from being competitive with the front runners. Honda, meanwhile, is still busy testing their production version of the RC213V that will be offered for sale to racers. Honda insiders claim to be pleasantly surprised by the machine's performance at the last test. It is still speculative, however, where either machine will fall in what is already a 3 class racing system and whether either option from the big two will be cost-attractive to teams with the CRT option in the long run. Jorge Lorenzo - It is the curse of the champion - that maintaining the title is infinitely harder than earning it to begin with. Yamaha's Valentino Rossi is famous for his outright refusal to run the number 1 plate, reportedly believing it to be bad luck and instead keeping his racing number 46. To underscore Rossi's point, he remains the only rider in recent history to win back to back titles. Which brings us to two-time and defending champion, Jorge Lorenzo. After a brilliant start to the season, Lorenzo has fallen on hard times in his championship defense. Lacking some of Honda's game changing technology like the much touted seamless-shift gearbox, Lorenzo is struggling to keep the Honda factory riders in sight. This weekend, Spain's own premiere champion returns to a track where he has taken the top step for two years in a row. Yet despite a sterling record at Mugello Lorenzo's releases quote him as hoping at best to claw some points back in the standings. Will almost a full race tally between himself and new championship leader Pedrosa, Lorenzo's reservations are understandable however he is the lead rider of a top notch team who will be working tirelessly to bridge the gap to Honda.