Jun 1, 2011
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HONDA ON A ROLL AT CATALUNYA
The heart of the European MotoGP season begins this weekend with the Catalunya Grand Prix north of Barcelona, a race with a rich history and massive crowds that marks the first of six races in eight weeks. For the Honda riders who've been dominant this season, it's a decidedly mixed blessing. The rapid succession of races gives multi-race winner Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda RC212V) plenty of chances to close in on the championship leader. But for Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V) the timing couldn't have been worse.
Pedrosa has made the painful decision to withdraw from his home race to allow his right collarbone to heal properly. The Estoril GP winner suffered a broken collarbone in a racing incident with Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini) during the French Grand Prix at Le Mans. Surgery was performed in France to stabilize the fracture with the hope that Pedrosa would be in fighting fitness for the race not far from his home in Sabadell. But despite a gap of two weekends between races, the collarbone isn't ready for the rigors of racing and Pedrosa will sit out Catalunya. No date has been set for his return.
Stoner rolls into Barcelona having won the previous race in Le Mans from the pole, as he'd done in Qatar to open his career with the Repsol Honda team. The Montmelo circuit has been good to Stoner, he's been on the podium at Catalunya every year of the 800cc era. It began with a win in 2007 en route to the MotoGP World Championship, and he's finished on the box every year since.
Stoner sits second in the world championship and could easily be in the lead when this flurry of races finishes. The week after Catalunya is the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Then comes a weekend off, after which the Dutch TT is run on Saturday, June 25, followed by the eagerly anticipated Italian Grand Prix at Mugello the following weekend. After another weekend's break, the series resumes at the Sachsenring in the former East Germany. The begins the summer break for the support classes while the MotoGP class flies off to Monterey, California for the last race prior to the summer break. All in all, six races in eight weeks. In order to make a serious run at the championship, a rider will have to be consistent and fit.
Repsol Honda rider Andrea Dovizioso hasn't had the highs and lows of his teammates. His season has been more steady, but not at the level that he expects of himself. Catalunya may be the setting where he can showcase his skills. The 25-year-old Italian won the Catalunya race and finished third on two different occasions while
racing a 250. In both of his first two MotoGP appearances, he finished just off the podium.
Dovi's most recent form has been his best. He arrives in Catalunya having finished second in Le Mans after qualifying a season high third.
Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) has had a tumultuous few weeks. It was the tall Italian who was involved in the incident with Pedrosa in France. Race direction believed the pass was too aggressive and Simoncelli had to serve a ride-through penalty. Earlier this week, it was announced by the FIM that he'd have to meet with race direction in Catalunya to further discuss the incident.
After a steady progression in his rookie campaign, Simoncelli has blossomed in his sophomore season. He's been at or near the front in every race and led in Jerez before falling on a wet/dry track. In qualifying, he's been no worse than fifth. In almost every race this season he's been a legitimate podium threat, though the promise remains unfulfilled.
Simoncelli's San Carlo Honda Gresini team-mate, Hiroshi Aoyama, hasn't been out of the top ten in his second year in the premier class and knows that he has to start faster on the weekend. The popular Japanese rider hasn't made the most of qualifying and knows that race success will only come when he can start closer to the front of the very talented field.
In his 250cc championship season of 2009, Aoyama finished second in Barcelona. This race will mark his MotoGP debut at the track. Last year he was forced to sit out the race in Spain because of a back injury.
Toni Elias (LCR Honda MotoGP RC212V) is from nearby Manresa, which will give the 2010 Moto2 World Champion added motivation in his home race. Elias has vast experience in Catalunya, he was second in the 125cc grand prix as far back as 2001. That may not help him much this season, but a test prior to the race in Le Mans did. As will an updated 2011 chassis supplied by Honda Racing Corporation to Elias for Catalunya. The season hasn't been rewarding for the Spaniard, who would like the race to be a catalyst to greater things.
While the MotoGP stars had a break between Le Mans and Catalunya, some of the Moto2 set tested at Motorland Aragon with encouraging results, while Stefan Bradl (Viessmann Kiefer Racing, Kalex) tested in Assen.
Bradl takes his dream season to Spain for the second time this year. Riding his Honda-powered Kalex, the 21-year-old German has earned the pole in all four races this season and won in Jerez. His finishes include two wins, a third, and a fifth. It adds up to a yawning 28 point lead over Spaniard Julian Simon (Mapfre Aspar Team Moto2, Suter), 77 to 49, after four events.
Though Bradl's margin is definitive, the spots behind him are fluid; second through sixth in the points is covered by three points. Behind Simon is Andrea Iannone (Speed Master, Suter). Yuki Takahashi (Gresini Racing Moto2, Moriwaki) and Thomas Luthi (Interwetten Paddock Moto2, Suter) are tied for fourth a point behind Iannone.
Takahashi won the Moto2 race in Catalunya last year from Luthi, with Simon third.
Montmelo is one of the few race tracks to be shared by Formula One and MotoGP. The layouts are slightly different, mostly in the final sequence of corners. It's also a popular Formula One testing venue and all those laps do no favors to the track surface.
The long front straight is followed by a hard braking right hand first turn after which follow technical sections of fast and slow corners, and elevation changes. The track is biased towards the right with eight right-hand corners, fast and long for the most part, and five left-handers of lesser speed. The right hand bias wreaks havoc on the right side of the asymmetric rear slicks, while the lefts are far less taxing. One of the most interesting corners is the uphill right running to the middle straightaway. It's here that one finds audible evidence of the electronics that have taken such a prominent place in racing. The sophisticated electronics cause the engine to produce a sound that sounds unhealthy, but, in fact, guarantees perfect traction for the run down the track's second longest straight stretch.
The place to spectate is in the final stadium sequence. Riders arrive through a series of lefts that feed a looping right which runs into the double downhill rights prior to start-finish. Tyre temperatures here soar, as the riders are leaned over for three very long corners, and on the gas for the crucial run down the kilometre-plus front straight. Get the first part right and it's difficult to be passed before the finish line, though it can be done.
MotoGP Rider Quotes:
Repsol Honda rider Casey Stoner says: "After such a great weekend in Le Mans I'm really looking forward to going to Barcelona, it's one of the first Grand Prix tracks I rode on and I've always enjoyed it. It's a very flowing track and the Spanish crowd are amazing. In the past Dani has proven our bike performs well there, so hopefully we can get there and find a reasonably good set up, fast and be competitive because we really need to start taking back some more points. I am very happy to hear that Dani's operation went well and I hope that his recovery time is quick. It's a shame he cannot be riding in his home race, but I really wish him a quick return back to track."
Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa says: "After France, I had surgery to stabilize the
fracture on my right collarbone and hoped to be ready for Barcelona. I pushed myself as best as I could but I feel that my collarbone is not yet ready. I think I must stop for a while and recover properly. Since early this year I've had many problems and operations and I really believe I must stop now and let this heal properly.
I would love to be in MontmelÃ³ with all the fans that follow me but for me if I'm on track, I'm there to fight for victory and offer them a good race. I feel that is not possible at the moment and therefore the most sensible thing is not to compete. It is a big shame what happened. Despite all the problems I had earlier in the season,
this year I felt very strong and I was aware that I could beat my opponents. I want to say thank you to you all for your support and hope to be back in full shape as soon as possible to continue giving my best."
Repsol Honda rider Andrea Dovizioso says: "I'm happy heading to the Catalunya Grand Prix after my second position at Le Mans. This is one of my favourite circuits, it suits my riding style and it's a good track also for the Honda RC212V. It's a long track with fast corners and it's a great feeling when you find the right flow and link one turn with the next. I have always had good results here and after the podium achieved in the last race we arrive competitive and motivated to repeat a good performance.
The atmosphere at this circuit is fantastic, there are always many spectators who are truly passionate. With the Catalunya GP starts a very demanding period of the season with six races in eight weeks. Personally, I like having two races in a row because you keep working on the bike without a break and it's good also as a rider as you spend more time on the bike. I'm very sorry for Dani and I hope his rehabilitation goes well."
San Carlo Honda Gresini rider Marco Simoncelli says: "I have had time over the two-week break to think about the race at Le Mans. I am still disappointed with what happened to Dani and I hope that he has recovered from his injury in time for this weekend. I am also disappointed because Honda were unable to celebrate having four bikes in the top four positions at the French Grand Prix. Overall on reflection I have realised where I have gone wrong and in the future I will try at certain times to evaluate the situation better and be a little more cautious. I know that I'm probably not going to get a standing ovation at Barcelona, but I hope that if I am criticised it is done in a civilised manner and not in the way that has happened in
other sports in the past. In any case I just want to put the controversy behind me and get out there on my bike and start working towards a race that I am sure the team and I have the potential to do well in."
San Carlo Honda Gresini rider Hiroshi Aoyama says: "I am still pretty satisfied with the way my season has started. I have been solid and consistent and we have picked up important points. Now in Barcelona I want to kickstart the next phase of my MotoGP development. I am determined to be more decisive during practice and make sure of a good grid position so that I don't have to make up ground in the races, as I have done so far. I know that with the help of my team and the feeling I have already established with my bike I can do it. Barcelona is a circuit I like so hopefully we can meet our objectives."
LCR Honda MotoGP rider Toni Elias says: "Honestly my situation is not the one I was
expecting for my home race, but I am not worried about that. I do not feel the pressure. I just want to continue my progression trying to fix the bike step by step. In the last three rounds we have found some small improvements, but my overall package is not perfect yet, so we will continue our set-up work to take a step further on my home soil. I want to thank Honda for their support so far and for the new 2011 chassis they gave us for this weekend. I will do my best to obtain the best result for me, the team and my fans."
Moto2 Rider Quotes:
Viessmann Kiefer Racing, Kalex rider Stefan Bradl says: "I am glad that the weekend is a race again. We had since the last race a little break and now I want to once again sit on the bike. Assen earlier this week was a little taste. At Barcelona, I
remember with pleasure; here it was actually always quite good. The Spaniards will be strong here, for it is their home race, but I know what I can not do and that is let me put under pressure."
Mapfre Aspar Team Moto2, Suter rider Julian Simon says: "I head to the Grand Prix of Catalunya full of hope and optimism, especially after the podium in Portugal and the good result last time out in France. The test we completed last week at Motorland (Aragon) was perfect for us and really helped me get confident with the bike. We found a setting that allowed me to be fast without taking too many risks. Now we have a home race to look forward to and personally I take a lot of motivation from racing in Spain. I love to feel the support of the fans and to go there lying
second in the championship is another reason to be confident. We have to set our objective as the podium and maybe even our first win in Moto2. MontmelÃ³ has a lot of long corners, which I love, and you have to keep a good line so as not to lose time off your lap."
Gresini Racing Moto2, Moriwaki rider Yuki Takahashi says: "I go to Barcelona feeling full of motivation because I won this race last year and we are making great progress at the moment. We showed it last time out in France and I think we can take
another step forward at MontmelÃ². I am improving and so is my bike and I think that my feeling with the Moriwaki MD600 is already good but we can take another step forward this weekend. I would love to repeat my result from last year and stand on the top step of the podium again."