MotoGP: 2013 Round 07 - Iveco TT Assen
Who Stole the Cookie From the Cookie Jar? Suspect: Smith, Bradley Victim: Dovizioso, Andrea Charge: During round 6 of the 2013 MotoGP season, the victim was seen circulating in a comfortable 6th place in the closing stages of the race. Having started 9th on the grid, Dovizioso had been somewhat struggling all weekend, further evidence coming from his inability to keep pace with American teammate Nicky Hayden. Blame would be placed on "pumping" from the bike which grew increasingly worse during the race, coupled with a progressive loss of grip. This left Dovizioso as the proverbial short skirt in a dark alley when on Bradley Smith caught up to him. Smith, who himself had suffered a devastating crash at Mugello that left him injured showed neither sympathy nor propriety as he caught up to the hapless Italian. In short order the Tech 3 rookie dispatched with his factory-graced adversary. Smith's eventual 6th place finish was a season's best as the customer Yamaha rider looks to improve on his standings in Assen. Projections are mixed, as the Briton seeks to recover from post race surgery to be fighting fit when he returns to the grid. Still, if he could take the fight to Dovi with a busted wrist and pinky he should have high hopes now that he is officially on the mend. Suspect: Suzuki Victim: Dorna Charge: It's no secret that Dorna has had a "thing" for Suzuki since the erstwhile manufacturer departed the series in 2011. Despite several concessions by Dorna in a sincere but ultimately doomed attempt to court the Japanese manufacturer to remain on the grid, Suzuki ultimately decided that GP funding was money better spent elsewhere. The factory, however, did promise to look into returning for the 2014 season. Seemingly true to its word, Suzuki announced this year that it would seek to return to GP racing andthis week officially unveiled their weapon of choice at the Aragon tests following the race. It has been no secret that Dorna, whose rear is no doubt still hurting from the public relations disaster that Suzuki's departure caused, wanted to use their return as a chance to reinforce their position in charge of the series and de-emphasize the role of the manufacturers. However at ever turn Suzuki has managed to thwart Dorna's attempts at imposed sanctions and assert their own independence. When Dorna insisted that they enter as a satellite based team Suzuki was able to show that no available team would be able to field the effort. All available teams capable of sustaining a factory backed effort were tied to one OEM or another, even among the CRT ranks. The CRT rules had, in effect, tied up the squads most capable of assisting Suzuki in their return. When the momentum switched to having Suzuki then buy out a team free market rules saw the prices of the Dorna-capped slots skyrocket in the multi-millions, a price far too great for Suzuki to entertain in a cash strapped economy. With their own rules once again working against them, Dorna has quietly offered to expand the cap to open two more spots on the grid for Suzuki. Now, after meeting with Dorna and being told that, among other things, they would receive no backing from the Spanish based company upon re-entry, Suzuki have officially put their re-entry date as 2015 citing uncertainty in the rules. There is, without doubt, a fair amount of questions surrounding their machine despite what was a positive test against the established brands. Suzuki, for example, conducted its test with a Mitsubishi ECU which will need to be dropped in favor of the spec Magneti Mareli box that re-entry will mandate. There was also no word on what type of engine mapping (and fuel usage) was used to post those favorable times, and how that could suffer under true race conditions. Still, despite Dorna's ire at the Japanese brand they still seem very capable of wrestling concessions from the series sponsor, and that puts them in a very enviable position. Suspect: Michele Pirro Victim: The entire field except for the 6 factory riders Charge: It has long been said that the role of the factory development teams was a difficult one, particularly at Ducati. The Italian brand has long suffered from the image of having a notoriously difficult to handle machine whose faults really only appear at the very limits of performance. To successfully evaluate any change, one must therefore push the bike to its limits under testing, but the ones most capable of performing this feat were not testers. If you were fast enough to push that hard, common knowledge said, you were on the grid. If you were just a little slower then you weren't, and were available for testing. How then does one explain Michele Pirro? The Ducati test rider has studiously been putting the affectionately named "lab bike" through its paces around the Ducati test track all through the off season and early part of 2013, and when Ben Spies was injured was called in to replace him. Only instead of using the tried and true GP13x Pirro would be using the experimental lab bike under race conditions. Use it he has, though, posting top 10 finishes except at Jerez where he finished in 11th for his 2013 debut. All of which begs the question, is it the rider or the bike? Certainly a huge batch of credit must go to the rider, as in Mugello Pirro was able to finish just off the factory Ducati positions. How much credit can go to the bike is up for debate. Both factory riders have now had a chance to sample the configurations on the lab bike and remain unconvinced that it is the leap forward that the team needs to to contest for podium positions. However their feedback was positive enough that Ducati is now cooking up a factory chassis for competition. With Spies still out for an unknown period due to aggravations with his injured shoulder, that leaves Pirro free to run amok on the grid. Test rider contract lengths are much less publicized than grid riders, but amidst rumors that DePuniet may be looking to jump ship for Suzuki and some contracts coming to an end then a few more finishes like this and his phone may be ringing by season's end. Suspect: Jorge Lorenzo Victim: Pedrosa, Dani; Marquez, Marc; Every Other Spaniard Charge: Spain is, without doubt, the single most represented nationality in the Moto GP series today. All three of the championship leaders for 2013 hail from her shores, as do the most coveted riders from the Moto2 feeder who seek to graduate in 2014. Catalunya, therefore, is more than just a home race for many. With the Spanish ranks slowly growing year on year, Catalunya becomes extremely symbolic event, with much pride on the line as Spain's chosen sons race for the chance to capture the adulation and support of their countrymen over their hometown rivals. In such a charged atmosphere, no other rider has been as successful as defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo. After a difficult mid-season Lorenzo entered his home gran prix down but far from out. He had been beaten by fellow alien Dani Pedrosa, roughed up by rookie sensation Marc Marquez, and then kicked while down by recalcitrant weather systems. Always he maintained his composure and waited for his moment to strike like a cobra. Catalunya was supposed to be a Honda track, with the red-winged brand's seamless shifting mechanism and compatibility with this year's Bridgestone's giving the Repsol team all the tools needed to keep their winning moment going. Yet that didn't happen, and Jorge romped the field and practically coasted to victory. Yet the win, which puts Lorenzo a scan 7 points from regaining the lead in the championship, is not the demoralizing factor that Pedrosa and Marquez must contend with. It is the fact that Lorenzo has been the highest finishing Spaniard at Catalunya for the past 5 years. Not only that, but his margin of victory only reinforces just how well he has the track dialled in for his riding style. Lorenzo will be hoping that a bit of poison from that victory stays with the Repsol pair, festering in their minds and throwing them off their game. He will need any advantage he can get to hold onto his crown. It is, after all, still a long season to go.