Thursday, August 13, 2009

MotoGP: Brno

Gut Czech

The so-called summer break is nearly over and racers and MotoGP junkies (you know who you are) alike are eagerly anticipating the return to action at the Automotodrom Brno, in the rolling hills of the southeast part of the Czech Republic. The nearby city of Brno is located on the confluence of ancient trade routes, which is fitting because, in many ways, Brno has always marked a turning point in the MotoGP season.

The summer break has always been a time for the riders and teams to relax, recharge and generally prepare for the long arduous journey that is the second half of the season. It has also been a time when rumors and innuendo run rampant about who will be doing what for whom and where they'll be doing it. Much bandwidth and ink has been expended in this forum and other venues on that subject, so we won't go down that perilous route too extensively. Suffice to say that announcements will probably be made this weekend that will determine the future for a number of riders and will bring team rosters into better focus.

Another turning point in this season is the new rule on engine restrictions that will become effective. Riders will be limited to 5 engines from here out to the end of the season at Valencia. If an unfortunate exceeds that number, then he will be docked 10 points. Some have pointed out that the rule might favor a front-runner with points to give and that it also favors the factory teams who have more resources at their disposal. Yamaha, in the person of Valentino Rossi, has tested a "long-life" engine, but this commentator is unaware of any other rider who has done so. It remains to be seen if the new, ostensibly more durable, motors give away any performance.

The test that customarily follows Brno has historically been a time when we caught our first glimpse of hardware destined for the season to come. This year the test has been reduced to one day and there hasn't been much speculation about new bits making their way to the Czech Republic. There have been whispers that Suzuki will test yet another iteration of their "new" engine, which has been a disappointment to Chris Vermeulin and Loris Capirossi in it's outings to date. Reports are also coming in that Mattia Pasini will get a test ride on a GP09 Ducati.

The biggest story this weekend, however, is the absence of 2007 World Champion Casey Stoner. Stoner, who has been batting a mysterious ailment that has nauseated him and sapped his strength and endurance, has, upon advice of his doctors, elected to sit out the next three rounds in an attempt to get back to health. This action has prompted a shuffing of talent at Borgo Paginale, with Pramac Ducati's Mika Kallio assuming Stoner's seat on the factory squad and Michel "Mr Fabulous" Fabrizio moving over from the Ducati factory SBK team to take Kallio's place.

Tanned, rested and ready, Valentino Rossi comes into this round with a 25 point advantage over his nearest rival, with literally a race to give. The Doctor has been at the top of his game during the shank of the season, and is coming to a track where he has had much success, with 4 wins and two second places in his eight years in the premiere class.With that kind of success rate and his recent performances, it would be hard to bet against him this weekend.

With Stoner's absence, Rossi's teammate at Fiat Yamaha, Jorge Lorenzo, has become the only really credible threat to battle the Doctor for the title. Lorenzo has done well here in the lesser classes, but hasn't beaten Rossi since Mugello. Indeed, Rossi has taken the young Mallorcan to school, most notably in Barcelona and Germany, making an emphatic point about who is still #1 in the factory garage. Rumors that Lorenzo would bolt to Honda in 2010 have all but evaporated and it is widely believed that it will be announced at Brno that he will stay with the tuning fork marque.

Bold Predictions

1. Rossi
2. Lorenzo
3. Someone else

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