Tuesday, July 31, 2007

MotoGP: Half Term Reports

OK, we are more than half way through the season, but this is the mid-season break. Let's do what magazines do when there's nothing much to report and give out grades on how well each team has done in the season so far. At least it's an excuse for a thinly disguised rant.

Marlboro Ducati
Grade A
The Italian team have had an outstanding year. Back in the 990cc era, they won races but lacked consistency. This year, they have been consistent as well as jaw-droppingly quick. Bridgestone tyres have been partly responsible for this Italian renaissance.
However, the main ingredient in the winning Ducati recipe for 2007 has been the surprising rise of the little Australian, Casey Stoner.
At the start of the year, Ducati's 800cc bike was almost embarrassingly fast in a straight line. Many people claimed it would run out of fuel over a race distance. It didn't. They said it wouldn't go around corners and would be slaughtered on twisty tracks. It wasn't. The Ducati Desmosedici 800 is a magnificent machine, and the Ducati team are the ones to beat every weekend. Stoner can finish 2nd in every race from now on and still win the title. A great show from Ducati in the first part of the year.

FIAT Yamaha
Grade B
The Yamaha 800 is an incredible machine under braking and in corners. In fact, Colin Edwards, in his usual laconic Texan manner, said that the Yamaha is the fastest bike in a circle! Unfortunately for Yamaha, MotoGP races are not done on circular tracks. Whenever there is a straight, the Yamaha's lack of power is horribly exposed, except when hidden by Rossi's utter genius, as at Mugello, where a combination of excellent torque and superhuman riding led to an emotional victory.
The problems of Michelin weigh heavily on FIAT Yamaha. At Laguna, Rossi was about 30 seconds behind the winner, Stoner. As Edwards said, when the hell has Rossi ever been 30 seconds behind the winner?
Yamaha have the best engineer in the pitlane with Jeremy Burgess (the Aussie who engineered Doohan to about 1 million victories), and the best rider with Valentino Rossi. If they had the best tyres, they just might win the championship. Michelin must make a massive improvement before Brno to give them a chance.

Repsol HRC Honda
Grade C
The new Honda RC212V started out as a complete and utter dog.
The bike has gradually improved, or at least the Repsol bikes have, leaving the other Honda teams adrift with the horrible original model. Dani Pedrosa has tried his teeny heart out, but has been frustrated by the lack of front end feel and poor braking. This is exacerbated by the fact that Michelins have worse front feel than Bridgestones, and Pedrosa is too teeny to be great on the brakes. However, the little Spaniard scored an outstanding victory at Sachsenring, proving that Honda are back on the up. Nicky Hayden is finally starting to get up to speed on his bike. Still, overall this has been a poor performance by HRC so far this year. Their low grade reflects the high expectations that we have of Honda.

Rizla Suzuki
Grade B
This has been a hugely improved year for Suzuki. Their young Australian rider Chris Vermeulen won an amazing race at Le Mans in the wet, proving himself to be what the Germans would call a "Regenmeister" even though he claims to hate riding in wet weather. On the other side of the garage, quivering lunatic John Hopkins has finally climbed onto the podium and stopped kicking the bike (but started kicking Carlos Checa instead). The Suzuki has been very close to the Ducati and Yamaha in a few dry races, and scored a fair and square 2nd place at Laguna. A good year so far for the baby blue team.

Grade B-
Many people are now saying that the Kawasaki is a winning bike looking for a winning rider. That is an enormous leap forward from last year, when they only looked like a victorious team for the first few laps of the crazy Australian GP.
The small Japanese team have produced an extremely impressive little 800cc bike, but Randy de Puniet has struggled to capitalize on the fast green machine and its Japanese tyres. He has put in a few good rides, but is almost constantly injured due to his crazy high speed hop-offs. Anthony West has done well in his first few 800cc races, and Roger Lee Hayden was very impressive for a raw rookie at Laguna. Need to keep improving.

Honda Gresini
Grade C
It hasn't been an impressive year so far from the privateer Honda team. They have struggled horribly with the rubbish RC212V, and rarely manage to find a good setup for the Bridgestone tyres. Things went from bad to worse when Toni Elias was injured at Assen, but Marco Melandri showed well at Laguna, despite being injured by bird-brained Kurtis Roberts.

Konica Minolta JiR Honda
Grade F
OK, the Honda is rubbish this year, but Shinya Nakano hasn't been within a sniff of the pace. An atrocious performance.

LCR Honda
Grade E
Yes, another rubbish Honda machine, but Carlos Checa has shown only quick glimpses of his old speed, but has spent most of his time flailing around the back of the grid without anything resembling race pace.

Pramac D'Antin Ducati
Grade C+
The D'Antin bikes are very similar to the factory Ducati machines, as was shown by Barros when he beat Stoner to a podium at Mugello. However, Barros blows hot and cold, while Hofmann is a journeyman at best. Terrible luck has led to injuries to both riders' front paws, which hardly helps. Could do better.

Dunlop Tech 3 Yamaha
Grade D
Held back by the pitiful Dunlop tyres, Tech 3 have had a frustratingly poor start to the year. Tamada's talent has gone AWOL, while Guintoli shows promise but is just a rookie.

Team KR Honda
Grade F
At the start of the year, their chassis just didn't work, and neither did the abysmal engines that Honda have fobbed off on King Kenny. This caused Kenny Junior to throw his hands up and stomp home, forcing the team to employ his little brother Kurtis, whose lap times are almost as slow as his brain. A new chassis at Laguna had teething problems, which are barely relevant due to their pitiful, bottom of the barrel engines. Kurtis also injured Marco Melandri at Laguna, leading to Valentino Rossi making an acid remark that "riders who arrive 13th in Superstock should not be allowed into MotoGP."

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