Moto GP opens this weekend

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The greatest two-wheeled racing competition finally comes back after four months off, opening this weekend at Qatar’s Losail Circuit.

Casey Stoner of Australia, star signer of Honda, continues to be the bookies’ favorite for the championship. Pre-season tests have shown him able to zoom off in incredibly fast laps according to his preference. Last year, he rode the unbelievably fickle Ducati, and often landed in big trouble and in the gravel trap, thanks to his style of being hard both on the brakes and the throttle. This time, though, with the innovative gearbox technology of Honda, he seems to be in a better place to practice his skill.

Teammate Dani Pedrosa will be a hard pusher, as he had been found equally fast, sometimes faster, in the pre-season runs. Then again, one of the best clues that Honda will come out on top this year may be how its satellite riders have gone: relatively young entrant Marco Simoncelli, with his comedic curly hair, reportedly breezed through the Sepang test holding the fastest time, while teammate Hiroshi Aoyoma also sprang into the top three on the very first day of the test in Qatar. These were considered remarkable achievements for riders who were relatively new in the game.

Yamaha, reigning champion, seems to be left on the back burner. Over the winter, Yamaha went through an exodus, with talisman and most experienced Valentino Rossi going west, along with Furosawa-san the technical guru. Apparently, Yamaha is now staring down a barrel of poor performance, especially compared with its rivals.

2010 champion Jorge Loenzo made a public announcement of wanting more power and grip, while privately yearning for a teammate that was a little less competitive. Last season’s Rookie of the Year Ben Spies, who stepped into Rossi’s shoes, reportedly ran Lorenzo impossibly close in every race, and is expected to cause all manner of trouble this year.

Of course, there is a greater number of potential winners for this season’s race compared to previous seasons, which gives Valentino Rossi and Ducati a bit more of a challenge. With a debilitating shoulder injury troubling Rossi for nine months following a motocross accident, he might have a much harder time riding hard. This means nobody can expect a rerun of 2004, as it might take time for him to get fitter and consequently faster. Then again, that did not keep a stadium-full of fans from cramming into a piazza in Bologna last week just to watch him start his bike.

The injury must have been taking its toll on Rossi more than he let on, what with his finishing thirteenth on the two-day Moto GP test runs, when he fell off his Ducati again at curve 7.

Meanwhile, Stoner and Pedrosa held the record for fastest times during the test runs, with Pedrosa swiping past Stoner at a 1’55”681 record.

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