Setting The MotoGP Scene For 2011

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

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Get used to this sight in 2011 in MotoGP: A Repsol Honda tearing around the track faster than any other team's machine.

Eight days of preseason testing are done, and the 2011 MotoGP season starts this Sunday, March 20 with the Grand Prix of Qatar (3 p.m. ET, SPEED).

It's time for the rubber to meet the road for the world's greatest motorcycle racing series, which includes the Red Bull Indianapolis GP on Aug. 26-28 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But there's still plenty to chew on from the tests before the serious business gets underway under the lights at Qatar, and here are some final, itemized preseason deductions.

Honda, Honda, Honda: If testing is any indication, MotoGP is Honda's world in 2011, and every other manufacturer is just living in it. Honda riders led all eight days of preseason testing, with nobody else that close.

It appears the battle for the manufacturers' title is going to be about as compelling as the Duke-Hampton matchup in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Honda never has won a Riders' or Manufacturers' title in the 800cc era that started in 2007 and ends this season, and it appears the company has put in a massive effort over the winter to ensure that streak ends. Honda dominated the 990cc era from 2002-06, so it's unthinkable it will be shut out in this era.

Casey or Dani?: Honda is showing dominant form during testing, but the riders' championship race still could be very compelling. New Repsol Honda teammates Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa have been within a whisker of each other during preseason testing. For example, Stoner was quickest in two days of testing this week at Qatar, just .064 of a second ahead of Pedrosa.

Neither Stoner nor Pedrosa are known for sunny and light relationships with teammates, and both have quite a bit to prove this season. Three seasons have passed since Stoner won his only MotoGP World Championship in 2007, and he will try to assert himself as team leader in his first year with Honda. Spaniard Pedrosa has been the golden child of Honda and Spanish title sponsor since he joined the team as a rookie in 2006, yet he has won no world titles. The clock is ticking for little Dani ...

This could be an epic intra-team duel for the championship, very similar to Jorge Lorenzo vs. Valentino Rossi last season at Yamaha before Rossi's broken leg in June or even as bitter and hard-fought as the legendary battles between McLaren teammates Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in Formula One in the late 1980s. It's going to be good, folks.

Spies rising: Even though Jorge Lorenzo comprehensively beat seven-time MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi to the title last season and was faster than a healthy Rossi, many believed Lorenzo would have an easier time -- mentally and physically -- this season holding off new Yamaha Factory teammate Ben Spies.

Be careful what you wish for, Jorge.

American Spies has been as fast or faster than Lorenzo for most of preseason testing. He was third overall this week at Qatar, the fastest non-Honda rider. Lorenzo was eighth overall, nearly four-tenths behind Spies.

Elbowz will give Lorenzo everything he can handle this season, and then some. And don't expect any head games by Lorenzo to work against Spies. Mat Mladin was one of the hardest riders in the world, tougher mentally than anyone in MotoGP, and he couldn't crack Spies during Spies' three consecutive AMA Superbike titles from 2006-08.

It’s a matter of when, not if, Spies will earn his first MotoGP victory this season. And he might stand atop the podium in 2011 before Lorenzo.

Trouble for Ducati: After eight days of testing, what started as a curiosity has become a trend: Ducati is in trouble with its 2011 bike.

The Ducati factory bikes have been a second or more off the pace of the leading Hondas at all three preseason tests, as Rossi and Nicky Hayden have complained about the bike’s inability to turn.

Hayden ended up 10th this week at the Qatar test, 1.045 seconds behind Stoner. Rossi was 13th, 1.307 seconds behind Stoner.

Rossi still is recovering from major offseason shoulder surgery. But healthy or wounded, 1.3 seconds is an eternity to claw back in Grand Prix motorcycle racing. The Ducati is going to need a serious technical house call to get The Doctor near the top step of the podium in the first half of this season, if at all.

You have to feel for Hayden, “The Kentucky Kid.” Since he won the World Championship with Honda in 2006, he was gradually uprooted from that squad by intra-team politics. He arrived at Ducati in 2009 and pounded out endless test laps – no rider in MotoGP works harder than Nicky at tests – to get accustomed to that team’s radically different bike. Progress finally was made last season, as he recorded eight top-five finishes, including one podium. And now it appears he and Rossi are saddled with a slow bike compared to its rivals.

The coming man: If you’re looking for the breakthrough rider on the 2011 grid, look no further than the ‘Fro.

Italian Marco Simoncelli could take his huge mushroom of brown curly hair to a MotoGP podium this season on the satellite San Carlo Gresini Honda. He ended up the Qatar test fourth overall, just .752 behind factory Honda leader Stoner. Simoncelli was fastest overall in testing in early February at Sepang and was fourth fastest in the test at Valencia the day after 2010 season ended.

Simoncelli won the 2009 250cc World Championship but struggled a bit early last season in his adjustment to MotoGP. He found his stride in the second half on the satellite Honda, ruffling a few leathers among factory riders with his aggressive passing style.

Expect Simoncelli to be the top satellite rider in MotoGP this season if he stays healthy.

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2011 tickets: 2011 Red Bull Indianapolis GP tickets are on sale now.

To buy tickets, visit www.imstix.com, call the IMS ticket office at (317) 492-6700 or (800) 822-INDY outside the Indianapolis area or visit the ticket office at the IMS Administration Building at the corner of Georgetown Road and 16th Street. Ticket office and phone hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET) Monday-Friday.

The 2011 Red Bull Indianapolis GP is scheduled for Aug. 26-28 at IMS.

Race Day general admission tickets cost $40, with Friday general admission $10 and Saturday general admission $20. A three-day general admission ticket is $60. A Friday-Saturday general admission ticket is $25.

Children ages 12 and under will be admitted free any of the three days of the event when accompanied by an adult with a general admission ticket.

Race Day reserved seat prices will start at $70.