News 7 Apr 2010

Racing Insider #14

This week's Racing Insider covers many aspects of the sport in the lead-up to the busiest weekend of the season so far.

Stoner was quickest in Qatar last month and is the favourite for this weekend's season opener.

Stoner was quickest in Qatar last month and is the favourite for this weekend's season opener.

Season 2010 of the MotoGP World Championship is set to go down in the record books as one of the most hotly contested ever, with legendary Italian Valentino Rossi aiming for his 10th world championship crown.

Rossi won his first title in the 125cc Grand Prix category back in 1997, then clinched the 250cc championship in 1999, before winning the premier class number one in 2001 on the two-stroke 500GP machine and then the four-stroke MotoGP class in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009.

The off-season has ran incredibly smoothly for Rossi and the Fiat Yamaha squad this year, on paper being one of his strongest yet as he set the fastest time in both Malaysian tests and second best at the recent Qatar conclusion under lights.

Rossi is ready for the challenge of going for number 10, his motivation seemingly higher than ever before when it comes to going for that elusive world title and he’s confident he has the equipment to do it.

Yamaha has focused on improving stability and increasing grip to the YZR-M1, while he’s holding back on naming a true rival for the season just yet – Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo would have to be the favourites right now to challenge The Doctor.

This season will see engine restrictions reduced to just six for the season, meaning that engineers have been working overtime during the pre-season to develop powerful engines with great durability.

One man who could stop Rossi in his foot tracks is Stoner, the 2007 world champion returning this year from a devastating season in 2009 after suffering from a host of health issues.

Stoner was quickest at the final pre-season test under lights at the Losail Circuit, entering round one of the series this weekend at Qatar as the favourite shooting for his fourth straight win at the Middle Eastern circuit.

Stoner says he’s fit and has been able to train properly during the off-season for the first time in three years, although the April fools joke that he was going to miss round one did manage to fool plenty of industry insiders on Twitter last week.

Perhaps the greatest improver for Stoner will be the big-bang engine that Ducati has developed, which is said to have greater traction, better handling and has reduced its tendency to wheelie according to Casey.

This year has seen long time Ducati team manager Livio Suppo depart for Honda, leaving former test rider Vittoriano Guareschi to take over as manager for the new year, which may be better or worse for Casey. Time will tell!

While Rossi and Stoner have been the dominant forces in testing and are the two most recent world champions, you can never rule out Rossi’s Spanish teammate Lorenzo, who is recovering from a broken wrist suffered in a Motocross crash during the off-season.

Completing the fantastic four is Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, who has been struggling somewhat in testing compared to Italian teammate Andrea Dovizioso – third quickest last time out in Qatar.

Stoner’s teammate Nicky Hayden, the 2006 world champion, also has been impressive in testing, while his fellow Americans and Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team members Ben Spies and Colin Edwards have been consistently on the pace.

Rookies for this season include current Superbike World Champion Spies, 250GP champion Hiroshi Aoyama, former 250GP champ Marco Simoncelli, Hector Barbera and Alvaro Bautista, making for a huge battle in the Rookie of the Year honours.

The Hayate Kawasaki team is out, with ex-rider Marco Melandri returning to the Gresini Honda team, while Team Aspar has joined the fray with Ducati to make five Desmosedici GP10s on the grid for this season.

Australian Garry McCoy is expected to debut with the all-new FB Corse team on a three-cylinder prototype at the third round in Spain at Jerez, while former Suzuki star Chris Vermeulen has returned to WSBK with Kawasaki – leaving Stoner as the lone Aussie title contestant.

It’s going to be a hard-fought year in season 2010, the major one between Rossi, Stoner, Lorenzo and Pedrosa, while the rest will be pushing to make their marks as championship contenders.

It’s always a funny time of year in the early stages of World Superbike, basically because when it starts everybody is pumped on it, but come a few rounds in and all attention swings to the MotoGP season opener.

From that point it depends on the title fights to determine what series is the more popular one during the season, however you can’t argue that the WSBK title ultimately has more depth.

Australia won’t have Chris Vermeulen back this weekend at Valencia, the Queenslander having arthroscopy surgery to his right knee last Friday and forcing him out for the second round in a row.

With Vermeulen out and Broc Parkes still on the sidelines, Australia will have to focus on the performance of former double world champions Troy Corser and Andrew Pitt as they continue to develop and improve the BMW S 1000 RR.

There’s been a massive lead-up to the second round of the Australian Superbike Championship to be held at Hidden Valley in the Northern Territory this weekend, where Wayne Maxwell will lead the series into the round with Demolition Plus GAS Honda Racing.

Many of the riders travelled to the NT early to acclimatize to the hot and humid conditions that’ll greet them come race day, with today marking the unpacking of the Viking Group trucks that delivered much of the equipment to the round.

Additional riders on the Superbike grid this weekend will be Robbie Bugden, home form New Zealand Superbike duties, and Craig Coxhell, making his debut on the BMW.

We’ll also see the majority of the support classes having their first round of the year, including the Superstock 1000 C- and D-graders, 125cc Grand Prix, 250-Mono, Juniors and Sidecars.

Maxwell holds a commanding 13-point lead in the series after scoring pole position and both victories at the season opener, with current Australian Supersport Champion Bryan Staring impressing with second overall on debut with Cougar Bourbon Honda Racing.

Staring is expected to gain steam into Hidden Valley and all indications are that he was fastest at last week’s test, as will Ducati Motologic’s former double ASBK champion Jamie Stauffer, who has developed the team’s 1198 R with a test at Winton recently.

Another new face and team to the series at Phillip Island that finished fourth overall was KTM Superbike Team star Shannon Johnson, who has been in the NT for two weeks and also went swimming with crocodiles this week!

We know that defending champion Josh Waters will be eager to claw back points and the long straight at Darwin will suit the Suzuki, with Shawn Giles, Bugden and Scott Charlton all contenders for at least a podium position come Sunday.

The interesting part of this week has been that Valvoline Superbike Team rider Glenn Allerton has been in Malaysia riding a Yamaha YZF-R6 Supersport bike, the humidity over there certain to prepare him well for the challenges ahead at Darwin.

Allerton will be riding the R6, said to be an ex-Cal Crutchlow bike, in the Asian Road Race Series this year, pulling double duties alongside his existing ASBK commitments.

Don’t forget guys, we have our very own ASBK Tipping Competition right here, so check it out and make sure you place your bets ASAP!

Also, this week we send our thoughts out to the family and friends of Judd Greedy, with last weekend marking one year since his tragic death at last year’s Tasmanian round of the ASBK.

It was a very cool surprise to see the British Superbike Championship races live on Foxtel’s Eurosport on Monday night, the 2010 season opener aired direct from Brands Hatch live.

Although it was excellent to watch Aussies Josh Brookes and David Johnson in action in the BSB Superbike class, it’s also disappointing that we can see British races live on TV, but not ASBK!

Brookes had a good run in race one to finish fifth, setting the fastest lap of the race and securing pole for race two due to the new regulations, however things turned pear-shaped for him when he crashed out of race two before the halfway stage.

In the Supersport ranks, Billy McConnell was on the podium in third as we expected he would be, while it’s awesome to see Jason O’Halloran on competitive equipment and picking up fourth on debut with Triumph on the Daytona 675.

Last weekend saw many of our top national stars in action in various state titles, with the Queensland and New South Wales championships being staged over the weekend.

Lawson Bopping won the NSW Motocross season opener last weekend.

Lawson Bopping won the NSW Motocross season opener last weekend.

Todd Waters won the Pro Open class at the Queensland titles from fellow Honda rider Dean Ferris, the pair really coming on strong and getting a lot of race mileage under their belts as the MX Nationals are about the hit full swing.

Meanwhile, the Wollongong series opener of the NSW titles was run under horrible conditions after rain drenched the area in the lead-up to the weekend – leading to some surprising results.

Who would have thought that Lawson Bopping would beat defending Australian Pro Open Champion Jay Marmont in the Pro Open class? That’s what happened, after Bopping won race two to win on a count back.

The Lites class saw Michael Addison win ahead of Ryan Marmont, the pair trading wins in the mud, while Bopping did double duty and claimed third overall for the round in the Lites.

A few of the major players were planning on racing a club day at Canberra this weekend, where the second round of the MX Nationals will be held in a couple of weeks time.

That plan was shelved after it was notified that anybody who rides this weekend wouldn’t have their entry accepted for the Aussie title round when it’s run due to the regulations.

That’s all for today, thanks for reading!