Monday, March 30, 2009

Stoner Hero at GP Zero

Casey Stoner ignored his still-crocked wrist to demolish the field in the mock qualifying session at the Jerez MotoGP test, dubbed "GP Zero", and strolled off with the prize: a ludicrously quick baby BMW.

The Aussie is still having trouble with that wrist, which is taking a long, long time to heal fully after an off-season operation. This didn't stop him wrestling the new carbon-framed Ducati round to a stunning "pole position" though. He still hasn't completed a race distance for ages, but it seems very sensible to hold off that kind of punishment for as long as he possibly can. They don't give out points for race distances in testing. An incredible lap from Stoner to win the Beemer, so don't bet against him taking his second world championship.

Valentino Rossi had to settle for second place on his FIAT Yamaha, but the (arguably) Greatest Of All Time is still looking good for another title challenge. I wouldn't bet against him either.

Loris Capirossi was the surprise 3rd place finisher. Maybe the Suzuki's pre season testing pace will hold up in the season this time. The second Rizla Suzuki bike was Chris Vermeulen in 5th, so this might be Suzuki's year. Maybe.

In between the two powder blue bikes was Rossi's young team-mate, Jorge Lorenzo. 4th was a decent result for the Spaniard as he continues his adaptation to Bridgestone tyres.

Finland's Mika Kallio finished an excellent 6th on the satellite Pramac Ducati. He's the rookie that everyone is talking about this year, and is already on the pace. Definitely one to watch.

New factory Repsol Honda rider Andrea Dovizioso won't be too chuffed with 7th place. However, he's still better off than his team-mate Dani Pedrosa, who didn't show up at all, still crocked after various injuries and operations. Dovi might well out-pace his teeny team leader this season. It'll be very interesting to find out.

Thankfully free from the evil sponsorship of Equatorial Guinea's dictator, Sete Gibernau took his satellite Dodgy Builder Ducati to a very respectable 8th place. He was still complaining about his dodgy shoulder, which has been dodgy for ever and ever and ever. A lot of head-shaking for Sete, then. After retiring, why on earth would he return and throw himself to the MotoGP wolves again? Who knows, but he seems to be doing alright so far.

Little hang-off-the-bike nutcase Toni Elias brought his satellite-but-factory Gresini Honda to a half-decent 9th place. Not bad going, but Toni is so unpredictable it's impossible to tell if he'll have a great season or a terrible one.

Colin "Excuses" Edwards finished 10th on the satellite Tech 3 Yamaha. Not all that brilliant considering that the Tech 3 machines are thought to be very close to factory spec. Still, the Texan ex-WSBK champ was upbeat. Will he have yet another season to forget? Hmmm, I dunno.

Nicky Hayden had a mediocre session, finishing just 11th on the second factory Ducati, outpaced by two satellite machines. I seriously doubt that Nicky can adapt to the insane Bologna Bullet. That bike can only be ridden quickly by a certain little Aussie who doesn't know what all the fuss is about. The only way I can see for the Kentucky Kid to get back to the sharp end of the grid is if Dorna bring back the 990's, which is what every single MotoGP fan and most riders want. But that will only happen after aliens land on the White House lawn and persuade Mr Obama to invade Spain and force Dorna to see sense. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Marco Melandri amazingly finished faster than several people, taking 12th on the Kawasaki. Uh, no, the uh, Hayate. Yeah. An extremely impressive showing from Marco, since the "Hayate" is such an awful formerly-green machine. So maybe riding the Hayate won't be Hari-Kiri for Melandri after all. Hopefully the likeable Italian can return to his old form and snag a great ride for next year. Simply getting into the top ten on that bike would impress the hell out of everyone.

Randy de Puniet took 13th on the Playboy LCR Honda.  (Yes, Playboy. Presumably they got the bunny sponsorship because Randy de Puniet spends so much time admiring rabbit burrows in gravel traps.) He was joined by fellow Honda satellite riders Yuki Takahashi and Alex de Angelis in 14th and 15th. Those satellite Hondas look like being rubbish this year, but keep an eye out for those guys in the wet and in their home races. You never know.

James Toseland took 16th fastest on the second Tech 3 Yamaha. Recovering from a massive highside earlier on in pre-season testing at Malaysia, he suffered a massive highside during the GP Zero session. The Englishman was briefly knocked out in the nasty high-speed crash, suffering a concussion and causing the session to be red-flagged. It doesn't look like being Toseland's year.

Niccolo Canepa was the last of the regular riders, finishing 18th on the second Pramac Ducati. As a former Ducati test-rider, Canepa was supposed to be good on the bike. Well, that's looking pretty dubious. He has an Italian passport though, so he'll be OK.

So overall, what do we take away from GP Zero? Well, It looks like another Stoner versus Rossi battle for the championship, and it's impossible to tell which one of them will come out on top.

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