Australian Grand Prix Preview: MotoGP, Moto2 & 125cc
The spectacular setting of Phillip Island hosts Round 16 of the 2011 MotoGP World Championship this weekend, as Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda) heads for his home race aiming to replicate his form of recent years at the track. Stoner, who currently leads the Championship standings by 40 points ahead of defending World Champion Jorge Lorenzo, has won for the last four years at his home round, and victory for a fifth consecutive season at the Iveco Australian Grand Prix could even seal the 25 year-old his second MotoGP title depending on the result of Lorenzo.
Lorenzo remains the only rider who can mathematically deny Stoner the crown. The Yamaha Factory Racing rider has a best premier class finish of second at Phillip Island, but nothing less than a win will satisfy him as he continues in his attempt to keep alive his slim hopes of retaining the title he won for the first time in 2010.
Andrea Dovizioso remains third in the Championship but now holds only a single-point advantage over team-mate and race winner last time out at Motegi, Dani Pedrosa. Dovizioso has never stood on the podium in the premier class at Phillip Island whilst Pedrosa has only done so once (in 2009), and the pair will now battle out a close contest in the remaining three rounds of the 2011 Championship as they compete to finish as the second highest rider in their factory team this season.
Ben Spies made an impressive showing as a rookie last year at Phillip Island, qualifying on the front row and scoring a top-five finish, and the Yamaha Factory Racing rider will be aiming to go one better this time around as he aims to consolidate fifth position in the standings. Valentino Rossi (Ducati Team), who fractured a finger in his crash at Motegi, will fancy his chances of catching the American before the season is out. Rossi has finished on the podium 13 times in his 14 visits to Phillip Island across all classes, including fve consecutive premier class wins from 2001 to 2005, but he has not yet tasted victory there in the 800cc era.
The Italian’s team-mate Nicky Hayden, who last week tested the GP12 at Jerez, is in line to make his 150th Grand Prix start this weekend, all of which will have come in the premier class. The 2006 World Champion will become just the ninth rider in the history of the sport to have made as many starts in the premier class.
Marco Simoncelli, who tested Honda’s 1000cc prototype following the Grand Prix of Japan, won twice at Phillip Island in the 250cc class and was sixth last season on his premier class debut at the track. Looking for a strong end to 2011 the San Carlo Honda Gresini rider will want to add to his single podium scored this season at Brno. Colin Edwards (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) and Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini) complete the top current top ten as it stands
Returning to the premier class fold this weekend will be Damian Cudlin, the Australian rider who impressed as a replacement for the injured Loris Capirossi at Motegi. Cudlin will this weekend step in at the Mapfre Aspar team as a substitute for HÃƒÂ©ctor BarberÃƒÂ¡, who had an operation last Thursday on the right collarbone he fractured in a crash in the Japan GP.
The Moto2 class remains the tightest of the three World Championship categories with just three rounds of the 2011 season left, and the two riders hoping to take glory will this weekend enter battle once more.
Marc MÃƒÂ¡rquez (Team CatalunyaCaixa Repsol) took the lead of the Championship for the first time this season following his second-placed finish at Motegi, and now leads rival for the title Stefan Bradl (Viessmann Kiefer Racing) by a single point as their fight for supremacy enters a thrilling three-race deciding final stretch.
Each rider has started from pole position seven times this year, adding another dimension to the closeness of their current situation, although it is MÃƒÂ¡rquez who has the upper hand in terms of recent results having placed inside the top two in the last eight consecutive races Ã¢â‚¬â€œ six of those having been wins.
Andrea IannonneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s (Speed Master) bid to secure third place in this season’s Championship has hit a rich vein of form in recent rounds, the Italian taking four podiums in the last five races, including victory last time out in Japan, whilst Alex de Angelis (JiR Moto2) and Simone Corsi (Ioda Racing Project) are not far behind and are themselves separated by just six points.
Rookie Bradley Smith (Tech 3) and Thomas LÃƒÂ¼thi (Interwetten Paddock Moto2) are level on points in sixth and seventh respectively, the Swiss rider fresh from a first podium since the second round of the season after his result in Japan. There then stands a significant points gap to Esteve Rabat (Blusens-STX) in eighth position, who is having an impressive debut season in the category, with Yuki Takahashi (Gresini Racing) and Aleix EspargarÃƒÂ³ (Pons HP 40) completing the top ten as it stands.
MZ Racing’s Anthony West has enjoyed a positive run of results in the last two rounds and will hope to continue the trend at his home GP.
JuliÃƒÂ¡n SimÃƒÂ³n remains sidelined by injury as he continues to recover from further surgery to his leg, with IvÃƒÂ¡n Moreno standing in for the Spaniard on the Mapfre Aspar team this weekend. Sergio Gadea (Desguaces La Torre G22) will be an absentee too as he continues to recover following a heavy crash at Motegi.
There will also be two wild card riders at Phillip Island with Australians Kris McLaren on a Suter and Blake Leigh-Smith on an FTR, both riding for BRP Racing.
The task remains a big one for Johann Zarco with Nico Terol 31 points ahead of him in the 125cc World Championship standings and just three rounds remaining, but the French rider comes into this weekend brimming with confidence after finally taking his first ever GP win last time out in Japan.
Terol (Bankia Aspar) maintains a healthy lead in the standings thanks to his second-placed finish at Motegi, and Avant-AirAsia-Ajo rider Zarco knows it will take something special to turn that around, but his confidence will be high after he defeated his rival last time out. Terol could claim the title this weekend, but such an outcome would require Zarco to place way down the order and the Frenchman has finished inside the top six in all 14 races so far this season.
In third position in the standings Maverick ViÃƒÂ±ales (Blusens by Paris Hilton Racing) could set a new points record for a rookie in the 125 class this weekend if he finishes inside the top four. The Spanish talent has 190 points, and the current record is held by Marco Melandri (202 points in 1998).
Sandro Cortese (Intact Racing Team Germany) is ten points behind with fellow German Jonas Folger (Red Bull Ajo Motorsport) a further 40 back in fifth position, and HÃƒÂ©ctor Faubel (Bankia Aspar), EfrÃƒÂ©n VÃƒÂ¡zquez (Avant-AirAsian-Ajo), Luis Salom (RW Racing GP) and Danny Kent (Red Bull Ajo Motorsport) complete the top ten.
Five wild card riders will participate in the 125 class this weekend with Australians Tom Hatton (Fastline GP Racing), Joshua Hook (HookRacing.com), Nicholas Diles (Aprilia RSW Racing) and Alexander Phillis (Phillis QBE Racing) joined by New Zealander Avalon Biddle (Avalon Biddle Racing). Marco Colandrea replaces Francesco Mauriello on the WTR-Ten10 Racing team for the remainder of the season, and Manuel Tatasciore continues to ride in place of the injured Simone Grotzkyj on the Phonica Racing team.
The Iveco Australian Grand Prix runs from October 14th-16th and gets underway at 10.15am local time on Friday, when the 125 category starts the opening free practice session.