The Racing Capital
of the World
August 14, 2012 | By Paul Kelly
More than 80 riders will compete in the three World Championship classes at the Red Bull Indianapolis GP on Aug. 17-19 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, each among the world’s best motorcycle racers.
But there are a select number of riders with even more compelling narratives than usual entering this event, even if they’re not among the front-runners or past World Champions. Here are three riders to watch in each class:
Ben Spies: This has been a nightmarish season for American star Spies, in his second year with the Yamaha factory team. He produced four podium finishes, including a victory, en route to fifth place in the standings in 2011 during his first year with the team. This season, his best result is fourth, and he is 10th in the standings.
Spies has been plagued by freak occurrences this season, such as a broken rear swingarm, a broken frame, a broken helmet visor and food poisoning. It truly has been a year to forget so far for the Texan.
But Indianapolis is a perfect place for Spies to turn around his season. He won the pole for the Red Bull Indianapolis GP as a MotoGP rookie in 2010 and finished second in 2010 and third in 2011.
Spies admitted that announcing his intentions to leave the Yamaha team after this season lifted a huge burden from his shoulders last month, so he should be even more relaxed and ready to record his first podium finish of the season this weekend.
Casey Stoner: Australian Stoner is a known commodity among Red Bull Indianapolis GP fans. He won the race in 2011 on his Repsol Honda en route to his second World Championship. He also wasn’t the biggest fan of the 16-turn, 2.621-mile MotoGP course at IMS, which didn’t endear him to local media or fans.
Like him or not, Stoner is one of the greatest talents ever to race a Grand Prix motorcycle. And this will be the last chance for fans to see his aggressive style at IMS, as he announced in April that he is retiring from MotoGP after this season.
Stoner could become the first MotoGP rider to win this event more than once. Don’t bet against it, as his fading title hopes could use the boost of a victory. Stoner is third, 32 points behind rival Jorge Lorenzo, entering this event.
Aaron Yates: It’s a pretty safe bet that American veteran Yates will not finish on the podium of the Red Bull Indianapolis GP. He is riding on a production-based Claiming Rule Teams bike built from scratch by Michigan-based GPTech, a David taking on the Goliath factories of Yamaha, Honda and Ducati.
But competing in the race still will mark a personal victory for Georgia native Yates, 38.
Three-time American Motorcyclist Association national champion Yates has not competed on the AMA or world level since suffering a badly broken leg in a racing accident during an AMA Superbike race in March 2010 at Fontana, Calif. But GPTech owner Geoff Maloney remembered the aggressive, go-for-broke riding style that helped Yates earn the nickname “The Enforcer” during his long, distinguished AMA career, and he wanted Yates on his bike.
Marc Marquez: Every sport has The Next One. Marquez is that golden child in Grand Prix motorcycle racing.
Spaniard Marquez holds a comfortable lead in the Moto2 standings entering the Red Bull Indianapolis GP in his final season in the intermediate category. Marquez will jump straight into the Repsol Honda factory team next season as a MotoGP rookie, teaming with fellow Spaniard Dani Pedrosa.
2010 125cc World Champion Marquez was headed to the Moto2 title in 2011 as a rookie in the class before an injury forced him to miss the last two races. He has prodigious talent and rides with an aggressive style that has caused accidents and ruffled rivals’ leathers.
Much like Bryce Harper in baseball and Andrew Luck in football, Marquez is predicted by most to be one of the biggest future superstars of the sport.
Scott Redding: Four-time Brickyard 400 winner Jimmie Johnson earned only one victory in his NASCAR Nationwide Series career before jumping in 2002 to Sprint Cup, where he has won five championships and become a superstar.
Some MotoGP observers think British rider Scott Redding has similar potential. Redding has just one victory in five total seasons of 125cc and Moto2 competition, but he is being mentioned as a prime candidate for a MotoGP ride next season with a proposed Ducati junior team.
Redding’s aggressive, never-quit riding style appeals to many team principals in the MotoGP paddock. He is very large for a Grand Prix rider at 6-foot, 155 pounds, and many insiders think the more powerful 1000cc engines and bigger frames of MotoGP can help him overcome that disadvantage.
Nico Terol: It’s not often that a competitor arrives at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the precipice of joining the company of legends such as A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Rick Mears, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Michael Schumacher.
But Terol could become a member of a rare group – a four-time winner at IMS – if he takes the checkered flag in the Moto2 race.
Spaniard Terol won the 125cc race at the Red Bull Indianapolis GP in 2008, 2010 and 2011. But earning his fourth victory at Indy won’t be easy. Terol is tied for 21st in the standings in his first Moto2 season, with a best finish of 13th on his Mapfre Aspar Team Moto2 Suter-Honda.
Maverick Vinales: Spanish rider Vinales has more than just one of the coolest first names – yes, that’s his given name, not a nickname – in worldwide motorsports. He also has the skill and bravery that could deliver his first World Championship this season.
Vinales, 17, enters the Red Bull Indianapolis GP second in the Moto3 standings, just nine points behind German veteran Sandro Cortese. Vinales and Cortese appear to be in a head-to-head duel for the Moto3 championship this season, as third-place Luis Salom is 60 points behind leader Cortese.
Both riders have taken different routes toward the top of the standings. Cortese has been steady, with two victories and podium finishes in eight of nine races. Vinales has been more of a case of checkers or wreckers: He five victories but also has been off the podium three times.
The Cortese-Vinales battle is the most compelling title duel in the World Championship this season.
Romano Fenati: Valentino Rossi has kept Italy atop the MotoGP world since 1996, winning seven MotoGP World Championships and one world title each in 125cc and 250cc. But there is no clear heir apparent to “The Doctor” among Italian riders in MotoGP or the intermediate Moto2 class.
Fenati, 16, may be the one, the next great Italian rider.
He has finished on the podium three times as a Moto3 rookie, including a victory in April at Jerez, Spain, in just his second Moto3 start. His victory at Jerez came by a staggering 36 seconds as he showed uncommon mastery of mixed weather and track conditions for such a young rider.
Fenati is fourth in the Moto3 standings on his Team Italia FMI FTR-Honda.
Alex Marquez: Marquez is 19th in the Moto3 standings entering the Red Bull Indianapolis GP, but he’s still a rider to watch.
Spaniard Marquez, 16, is making his full-time debut in the class with Ambrogio Next Racing. He has made three wild-card starts in the class this season, with a best finish of sixth on his home track near Barcelona.
He’s also the younger brother of Moto2 points leader and 2010 125cc World Champion Marc Marquez and is showing some of the same talent as his older brother. Alex Marquez was the leader of the very competitive Spanish Moto3 championship this summer before he got the full-time call to the world level.