2009 MotoGP Season Preview

Hell yeah, people.  It’s time to get the gloves on.

EDIT: Updated with pics!

The 2009 Motorcycle Grand Prix season kicks off this weekend under the lights in Losail, Qatar.  17 races in 14 countries, from April 12th all the way until the season-ender in Valencia, Spain, on November 8th.  (And yes, including one particular race in Indianapolis on August 30th, which one TB will attend.  Hell yeah.)  18 riders hunting for one thing:  the MotoGP championship.

It’s been an interesting offseason for MotoGP fans.  First and foremost, the tire war is over, and Michelin’s bloody carcass has been dragged off the field.  I spent a ton of time talking about this in my 2008 wrap-up, so I’ll just sum up by pointing out that MotoGP will be going with a control tire for the first time ever.  All teams this year will be shod with Bridgestone rubber, finally ending the travesty of last season in which Bridgestone riders ran away from the field in almost every race, leaving a scrabble for fourth or fifth place for the right to say “Well, I was first on Michelins.”

Also in the offseason there was that little thing of the worldwide economy freefalling, and since motorcycles are largely a leisure pursuit, the motorcycle factories were hit hard.  MotoGP is  a prototype racing series (like Formula 1, whereas the Superbike series are more akin to NASCAR), so the costs of running a team are astronomical.  In this economic climate, the manufacturers have felt the pinch.  This led to the whole drama of the Kawasaki team dropping out of the championship, leaving riders Marco Melandri and John Hopkins twisting in the wind and the championship itself actually beneath the number of entrants required by FIM rules.  Dorna actually pulled some strings, came up with some funding, and got Kawasaki to kinda sorta unofficially put one bike back on the grid to stay within FIM regs.  Marco Melandri gets that ride, which leaves John Hopkins (still under contract for 2009) cashing a check from Kawasaki while riding a Honda in World Superbike.

World Superbike is also playing host to Texan Ben Spies, who took home the most recent three consecutive AMA Superbike titles on board a Yoshimura Suzuki.  Spies impressed the paddock with great guest-starring duty on the Rizla Suzuki MotoGP bike at Donington, Laguna Seca, and Indianapolis, scoring two top ten finishes on an underpowered bike.  Nevertheless, Suzuki opted to re-up with riders Loris Capirossi and Chris Vermeulen after a disappointing 2008 season, and when Team JiR Scot split and lost their Honda contract, Spies was left the odd man out.  He signed with Yamaha Italia to race World Superbike, and is currently making GP team owners slap their foreheads by taking every pole position and winning three of six races so far.

The big offseason story that is completely within the GP paddock is the defection of 2006 MotoGP Champion Nicky Hayden from the factory Honda to the factory Ducati team.  Hayden, a native Kentuckian, became the only man not riding a Yoshimura Suzuki to take the AMA Superbike title since 1999 when, at age 21, he piloted a Honda RC51 to the championship.  Immediately facing losing one of their popular champions to a rival factory, Honda semi-willingly signed Hayden to be the second rider (to champion Valentino Rossi) on the factory Repsol Honda team in 2003.  In six seasons riding for Repsol Honda, Hayden was always treated like the secondary rider, even while and immediately following winning the 2006 title, to the consternation of roughly 75% of the world not named Biaggi, Pedrosa, or Puig.  After years of the stepchild treatment, he’s now riding the drool-inducing Ducati alongside 2007 champion and 2008 runner-up Casey Stoner.  Hayden has a lot of adjusting to do to the Ducati and to Bridgestone tires, but he’s already faster than the rider he replaced on the team.

But enough gossiping about the past:  let’s talk future, shall we?  I decided this morning that I’d skip a long, rambling narrative (too late) and start giving some odds.  So let’s do it.

Rider:  Odds of winning the championship

Casey Stoner, Ducati Marlboro:  3:2

Why he might win: Stoner is starting his third season on the Ducati.  In the past two, he has been absolutely dominant at least half the time, and the other half appears only vulnerable to one V. Rossi.  He raced the last half of last season with a wrist fracture and still rode like a demon.  In offseason tests, his surgically repaired wrist has been painful especially over long distances, but he has thrown down single laps at blistering paces all winter long.  At the last test, he claims that his wrist is more than fine enough for race distance.  That’s bad news to the rest of the paddock.

Why he might not win: Stoner seemingly had the world on a string last year when he rode a winning streak into Laguna Seca, California.  In that race, Valentino Rossi rode like an absolute demon on a clearly underpowered bike, forcing Stoner into a mistake and taking the victory.  In the next few races Stoner seemed to be breaking away only to get rattled and crash out under pressure from Rossi.  It was looking like Rossi got into Stoner’s head at Laguna.  In short, that looks like the only thing that will stop Stoner from reclaiming his title.

Valentino Rossi, Fiat Yamaha:  5:2

Why he might win: Did you see the Laguna Seca footage?  This video doesn’t do it justice.  If you know racing, and saw the whole race, you know.  The man rode like his baby was on fire at the finish line.  In my 2008 wrap-up, I called Rossi the favorite to repeat.  Honestly, if I were plunking money down, I think I’d still bet on the man.

Why he might not win: Stoner is still on the Ducati.  He seems healed up, and is putting down staggering lap times in testing.  Rossi’s will to win is unquestionable, as is his skill, but Stoner has been his match for the past two seasons.  There’s no reason to think he won’t be again.

Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda:  7:1

Why he might win: As much as I hate to say it out loud, the Pedrobot is clearly a skilled rider, capable of both qualifying and racing well.  He’s similar to past racer Max Biaggi in that he doesn’t seem to race with the joy or the fire of a Stoner or Hayden or Rossi…he races with ice in his veins.  Not because he loves it, but because he wants to win, and will do damned near anything to do it.  His precipitous switch to Bridgestones in mid-season last year seemed (and probably was) petulant and foolhardy, but it did give him months of experience with the ‘Stones that other riders didn’t have.  The fact that he’s 4’2″ and 65 pounds soaking wet in a class that has weight restrictions for bikes but not riders doesn’t hurt.  (I’m only slightly exaggerating.  He’s literally 5’3″ and 112 pounds.)

Why he might not win: He was injured significantly in a testing accident and has had fairly recent surgery on his knee after his stitches ripped during testing.  During the most recent test he had to sit out due to an inability to bend his leg, so imagining that he will get off to a quick start is fairly difficult.  The major criticism of Pedrosa has been that he is nearly unstoppable when he grabs an early lead and runs away from the pack, but he has yet to dice with another rider late in the race and win.  He’ll have to do that from time to time to hoist the title.

Jorge Lorenzo, Fiat Yamaha:  8:1

Why he might win: Lorenzo started extremely quickly last year, notching several podiums and a win in the first few races.  He fell back to earth as the season progressed, suffering several nasty crashes, but he still managed to lock up Rookie of the Year.  He’s shown in his 250 career that he’s a tough competitor and ego is never a problem.  He’s capable of winning races, without a doubt.

Why he might not win: To win the championship, he’ll have to do more than win races.  He’ll have to win more races than Valentino Rossi, on the same bike and the same tires.  Do you think that’s likely?  I don’t.

Nicky Hayden, Ducati Marlboro:  12:1

Why he might win: There hasn’t been a man with such a beef against a motorcycle factory since Valentino Rossi in 2004 left the same Repsol Honda team that Hayden left in 2009.  Rossi rode an inferior bike to the title that year.  Hayden will mount a superior bike to the Honda, and he’ll be more than determined to show them (and the rest of the GP world) that his 2006 title wasn’t a fluke.

Why he might not win: Despite my love of Nicky Hayden, he is, in fact, not Valentino Rossi.  Rossi also took his whole crew, including his crew chief, with him to Yamaha, and he wasn’t switching tire brands.  Hayden will have to learn a new bike, new tires, and a new team.  While he’s been fast on the Ducati – often faster than Pedrosa on the Honda – he has yet to be within striking reach of Stoner on the same equipment.  The same reason that Lorenzo won’t beat Rossi applies here.

The Field:  100:1

Seriously.  Yes, there are lots of riders out there who are better than their results, and are probably riding bikes that aren’t up to snuff.  Yes, Dovizioso, Edwards, Toseland, Vermeulen, Capirossi, and Elias will contend for podiums.  Maybe even race wins.  But nobody in their right mind will tell you that the 2009 MotoGP champion is not one of the five men listed above.  Hell, you’d be hard pressed to find somebody that would argue for anyone outside the top two.  100:1 odds might be light.

Over/under on race wins per rider

Stoner: 7
Rossi: 8
Pedrosa: 3
Lorenzo: 2.5
Hayden: 1.5
Vermeulen: 1.5
Dovizioso: 1
All others: 0

Whattaya think, race fans?  Love it?  Hate it?  Argue with me!

The lights go on in Qatar on Sunday night…after that, it’s all academic…

Let’s race!


8 Responses

  1. Okay, after Indy, drive north and… 😀

    Only if you’re the one we talked into watching Boy while we’re at the race! (Otherwise we need to get back to him.)

  2. We’ll be watching the coverage, and I think I’ll send Calvin this-a-way sometime this weekend. He’ll appreciate the info. Not that I don’t, mind you, but I’m not an obsessive follower. 😀

    What-what-WHAT?!?!? Why, ma’am, I am O-FENDED!

  3. I totally read this entire post. Yep, I sure did.

    Just don’t ask me anything whatsoever about it.

    That one just made me laugh out loud.

  4. Don’t know why but the soundtrack playin’ in the back of my mind while reading this post, “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday…BE theeeere!” tee hee 🙂 Man, those were such cheesy commercials but apparently very effective if I remember them after uh, um, a lot of years. Yeah, I know, they were commercials for auto racing (mostly drag racing; funny cars and top fuels) but hey, in the South, racin’ is racin’ and purty durn near a religion.

    It was always monster trucks and motocross in my neck of the woods. The NASCAR races needed no damned commercials!

    It’s floating around here in a post or three, but my dad has been a huge NASCAR fan for decades. When I was a kid we used to go to a race or two a year, usually at Charlotte but sometimes at Martinsville.

  5. “…to the consternation of roughly 75% of the world not named Biaggi, Pedrosa, or Puig.”

    bwahahahahahahaha! Funny – because it’s SO true!

    I’d give Dovizioso 50:1, but other than that, yeah, what you said.

    Girls, be sure to watch for my companion piece to this next week. You’ll enjoy it, and no translation required. 😀

    Ladies: Dys spent at least an hour on Saturday night working on said companion piece. I have to say, you probably will enjoy it, indeed!

  6. Ohhhh man, that’s not a good start to the first night race!! Or first race for the season, for that matter!! Dammit, dammit, dammit!!

    You’re not kiddin’. That pretty much sucked. Now I’m left crossing my fingers and hoping that crappy ass SpeedTV (GP broadcaster in the US) will show it sometime before midnight one night. Grr.

    Speed actually showed the video of last year’s race during that time slot. At first, when it came up, we hadn’t heard about the postponement…we were just looking at the video in confusion and saying, “Stoner’s wearing the #1 plate? Hayden on the Honda? What the hell?!?”

    TB, you don’t do things by halves, do you?? What brilliant pre- season commentary!! The whole mandatory Bridgestone tyre thing will be interesting to monitor. Am so stoked to see Hayden on a Ducati- I reckon he and Stoner will make a grouse team. I am in my usual pre- season quandry of really wanting Stoner to win the whole shooting- match, but my primal love, adoration and wanting of Rossi’s babies will more than likely override that, as it does every year. LOVE THE DOCTOR!! On another note, would like to see Mika Kallio do well in his first foray into the premier class. And naturally, it would be nice to see Chris Vermeulen do well this year.

    Thanks TB!!

    Glad you enjoyed it! Let’s hope the extra day lets Nicky heal up a little bit from the supposedly catastrophic highside he had this weekend…

  7. […] ago, I was a young girl listenin’ to how ya flow), I promised a companion piece to TB’s 2009 MotoGP Season Preview.  I spent a bit of time getting all my stuff together, and then, in my ADD-ese, wanted one more […]

  8. […] my 2009 MotoGP Season Preview I called over/under on wins for all of the […]

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