2012 MotoGP Championship
This Thursday marks 152 days since the closing round of the 2011 MotoGP Championship at Valencia.
The man who won the concluding round was the same man who dominated all season – Repsol Honda’s Casey Stoner. The Australian ran flawlessly at all rounds except for Jerez, when a crash with Valentino Rossi caused a DNF, and Sepang, which was called due to the passing of one of MotoGP’s rising stars, Marco Simoncelli.
But on this Thursday, another season begins as the 2012 MotoGP Championship gets underway with the first free practice for the Commericalbank Grand Prix of Qatar at Losail International Circuit.
The season-opener, which occurs once again under the floodlights at Qatar on Sunday, April 8, will be historical race due to two main factors – the new 1000cc engine capacity limit, and the debut of the Claiming Rules Teams, which has swelled the grid nine more riders for a 21-rider grid.
And one look at the results of pre-season testing, and there’s no doubt that Repsol Honda’s Casey Stoner will be a favorite. The Australian, the 2007 (Ducati) and 2011 MotoGP Champion, dominated all three practice sessions held at Sepang (2) and Jerez (1).
But there’s more; Stoner has also won the past five consecutive races at Qatar.
Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda RC213V) says: “After good pre-season tests in both Sepang and Jerez, we head to Qatar feeling positive, but still have some work to do. This will be the first time with the new bike on this circuit so we will need to spend some time on the set-up to put ourselves in the best position.
“We’ve always enjoyed good results at the Losail circuit but this is a new season and there are more competitors contesting for victory this year. I’m excited to get the season started and fight for another World Championship.”
His teammate Dani Pedrosa will be looking for redemption over various injuries due to crashes during the last two years, including two broken collarbones. He’ll be looking to close in on his 100th podium at Qatar; he currently has 97.
During the pre-season, the biggest threat to the two-man Repsol Honda team, down from three after Andrea Dovizioso signed with Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, was without a doubt the Yamaha Factory Racing team duo of Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies.
Both riders posted competitive times aboard the new 1000cc YZR-M1 prototypes during the pre-season. As for the man who finished runner-up to Stoner in the 2011 MotoGP Championship, Lorenzo, he has finished on the podium at every Qatar met since joining the premier class in 2008.
Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha Factory Racing YZR-M1) says: “I’m very excited to finally make a race and see how we are compared to our rivals. Qatar was a good race for us last year but I think this season we have a slightly more competitive bike so I am hoping for good things to happen.
“Because of my hand injury it has been a long time since I was in a race so I am really excited for Sunday. I have been training a lot for this season; I’m feeling very good and very happy with the bike as well.”
As for Spies, his best finish was fifth at Qatar during his debut year in MotoGP when he took the Rookie of the Year award in 2010.
The last of the factory teams is the Ducati Team of Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden. The nine-time World Champion Rossi and 2006 Champion Hayden continued to work on the Ducati GP12 that debuted only two months ago at Sepang.
The two will be searching for much better results than in 2011 when Rossi finished seventh overall, the first time he finished out of the top three since his debut year in the 125cc class in 1996. As for Hayden, he finished in eighth overall.
Valentino Rossi (Ducati Team GP12) says: “We worked hard over the winter, and although we went the wrong direction at one point, we once again managed to find the good feeling with the GP12 that we’d had in the first test. With those settings, which we’ll start with in Qatar, I was able to get good feedback from the bike.
“At Losail it will be very important to work well during the sessions leading up to qualifying so that we can increase our confidence step by step as we approach Saturday, always trying to maximize our potential. I’m a realist, and I know well that our times are still a long way off and that there are still some things to fix.
“We won’t be able to address some of them right away, but it’s also true that both we at the track and the guys back home now have a direction to work in, and we must try to do as well as we can. We won’t completely redo the bike during the season, but we’ll try to progress little by little.”
As for satellite teams, the main threat will be the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team of Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow, who posted quick times throughout the pre-season. Besides Dovi’s switch, the other big one comes from Alvaro Bautista.
The Spaniard was without a ride after Suzuki pulled all efforts from MotoGP for 2012, but was then picked up by the now one-man San Carlo Honda Gresini team. Last year, the San Carlo Gresini riders were the late Marco Simoncelli, who passed following a wreck at Sepang MotoGP, and Hiroshi Aoyama, who joined World Superbike with the Honda World Superbike team.
Another Honda in the group will be the LCR Honda RC213V, which will be piloted by 2011 Moto2 Champion Stefan Bradl. The remaining of the MotoGP prototype satellite riders are Hector Barbera on the Pramac Racing Ducati, and Karel Abraham on the Cardion AB Motoracing Ducati.
MotoGP reports that much analysis has been made of the CRT project’s development but the true measure will come in Qatar, where experienced heads and new faces will compete against one another. Randy de Puniet (Power Electronics Aspar) and Colin Edwards (NGM Mobile Forward Racing) have 15 seasons of MotoGP knowledge between them, and the Frenchman was the quickest CRT rider on his Aprilia machine at the Jerez Test in late March.
Aleix Espargaró joins De Puniet on the Power Electronics Aspar team as he returns to the premier class after a year in Moto2, and another rider with previous MotoGPTM experience is British rider James Ellison, who rides for the Paul Bird Motorsport team after a five-year absence from the World Championship, MotoGP says.
MotoGP says three riders making their premier-class debuts as they graduate from Moto2 will be Michele Pirro (San Carlo Honda Gresini), Mattia Pasini (Speed Master) and Yonny Hernández (Avintia Blusens), Pirro having won his last race in the intermediate category prior to making the step up.
Hernández’s teammate on the Avintia Blusens team will be Iván Silva, who has previous MotoGP experience, and Danilo Petrucci (Came Iodaracing Project) will make his World Championship debut in Qatar.
2012 Qatar MotoGP Schedule (EDT):
- Free Practice 1 (FP1): Thursday, 12:55 – 1:40 p.m.
- Free Practice 2 (FP2): Friday, 11 – 11:45 a.m.
- Free Practice 3 (FP3): Friday, 1:55 – 2:40 p.m.
- Qualifying: Saturday, 12:55 – 1:55 p.m.
- Race: Sunday, 3 p.m.
2012 Qatar MotoGP on TV:
Speed TV will broadcast Qatar MotoGP at 3 p.m. (EDT) Sunday, April 8.