The 2011 season of MotoGP – only three races old – has already presented spectators and racers with a wildly topsy-turvy series of events. Equal parts exciting and unpredictable, rivalries are forming as two Spaniards separate themselves from the field.
Behind them a cadre of riders who have suffered under the cruel hands of the racing gods are seriously fired up to score points and make good as the GP circus heads to France this weekend for the Monster Energy Grand Prix of Le Mans.
Reigning MotoGP World Champion, Jorge Lorenzo, aboard the factory Yamaha, has a narrow four-point lead in the championship title chase over fellow Spaniard, Repsol Honda-mounted Dani Pedrosa.
This weekend carries the novelty of some statistics that are sure to add flavor to the unfolding drama. Le Mans represents Lorenzo’s 150th GP start, making him the youngest rider to reach that benchmark. He’ll be taking the record off of, who else? Dani Pedrosa.
Ironically enough, following Pedrosa’s spectacular win two weeks ago in Portugal, the pair are tied with 36 career GP wins apiece. So, Pedrosa heads to MotoGP France with the momentum of a win, having effectively quashed concerns about his endurance (following arm pump problems and surgery to repair a pinched artery) while Lorenzo has the confidence of having won last year’s Le Mans race.
Pedrosa’s teammate, Casey Stoner, is third, 20 points adrift in the 2011 MotoGP Championship. The Australian has only sat atop the podium once in Le Mans. Valentino Rossi seems to be making progress in taming the irascible Ducati MotoGP machine.
The popular (an understatement) Italian sits in fourth place behind Stoner. Vale has won three times at Le Mans in the premiere class, and has earned another four podiums here. Ducati has never won here-a fact Valentino is certainly interested in changing.
First American, Nicky Hayden, has been potent enough on the second Ducati to be tied with Andrea Dovizioso for fifth. Dovi, riding the third Repsol Honda, is extremely consistent, always managing to be up there in the mix regardless of circuit. The two MotoGP riders went fourth and third in last year’s race.
San Carlo Honda riders Hiroshi Aoyama and Marco Simoncelli have come to terms with their teams and the switch to the premiere class to enjoy some impressive rides. Simoncelli has shown absolute brilliance in speed as well as a facility for angering other riders with what some consider dangerous riding. The Italian has crashed out of the last two races; at Jerez while leading and on the first lap in Estoril after setting fast times throughout qualifying.
The man who is shining as this season’s top rookie (having assumed the position from Ben Spies) is Brit, Cal Crutchlow. The Tech3 rider has shown amazing ability to learn new tracks quickly and to be in fast enough form to be in contention. This ability will come in handy as this weekend marks Crutchlow’s first visit to Le Mans.
His MotoGP Teammate, American Colin Edwards, has earned two podium finishes over the years at Le Mans. Podium finishes would be nice for the duo as France is the home country of the Tech3 squad.
Hector Barbera scored a DNF at the last round in Portugal and will be looking to get back on track in his points chase. Toni Elías, aboard the LCR Honda, has a wealth of circuit knowledge having won at Le Mans twice before, once in 250s and last year in Moto2. Karel Abraham, the Czech rider and another premiere class rookie, is showing signs of coming to grips with the Cardion AB Motoracing Ducati.
American Ben Spies, who stormed to top rookie in 2010 MotoGP, has had perhaps the worst luck in his career thus far in 2011. Elevated to the factory Yamaha team, “Elbows” has had two DNFs out of three rounds. Rest assured he is using that frustration to fuel a solid ride this weekend.
MotoGP veteran Loris Capirossi and Randy de Puniet will be looking to put their Pramac Ducatis up near the front, with a special motivation for de Puniet being the only French rider in the MotoGP premiere class. And finally, the likeable Alvaro Bautista has shown incredible resilience returning from a serious injury, and is quickly getting the Suzuki back up to speed.
All the MotoGP premiere class racing action unfolds on Speed TV at 8 a.m. (EDT) Sunday, May 15.