The new MotoGP season will start this weekend with a race under the lights of the Losail International Circuit in Qatar. The 2012 season will mark the beginning of a new era in the sport with major regulation changes in both the premier class as well as the inaugural Moto3 championship.
After five years the much lamented 800cc bikes have been replaced by one litre machines that have already seen riders impressed by the changed characteristics. During recent years numerous races descended to boring single file processions where the order was almost confirmed by the opening corner of the race.
Whereas in the early four-stroke era, post 2002, MotoGP experienced tremendous growth due to Formula 1 struggling through years of Ferrari and Michael Schumacher dominance. Recent years have seen the trend reverse with Formula 1 consistently providing thrilling races while MotoGP struggled to provide excitement throughout the year.
It has been unfortunate for that at a time when of almost unparalleled talent at the front of the field there has been little hope of the racing matching their talents of the leading lights.
With Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa. Ben Spies and arguably the greatest racer of all time, Valentino Rossi, all competing at the same time it is imperative that the racing starts to improve with the new rules.
New season offers new hope of competition
Last year Honda had a dominant motorcycle and Stoner was able to cruise to a second world title. Winter testing however has indicated that the performance difference between the Honda and Yamaha has been closed considerably.
Even though Stoner has topped the times in each session the improvement of the Yamaha has been marked in recent months. When the testing season started in Malaysia the superiority of the Honda was such that another season of Repsol dominance seemed to be a foregone conclusion.
As testing progressed however Yamaha started to erode that dominance and Lorenzo and Spies started to impress. With customer riders Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso also setting competitive times there was much optimism of a more competitive season.
As ever Honda and Yamaha have sought different ways of finding their speed. Honda once again has designed a bike that will have a higher top speed whereas Yamaha will look to inspire confidence through a more user friendly chassis that will change direction easily.
Even though they are handicapped by a lack of outright top speed Lorenzo and Spies have a bike that allows them to push harder than their rivals. While Stoner has consistently bemoaned chatter, a bouncing of the front end, throughout the winter the Yamaha has not experienced such a problem and it was clear after the recent test in Jerez that Lorenzo is ready to reclaim his title:
“This is the best bike I’ve ever ridden,” said the 2010 champion after finishing winter testing at Jerez. “Everything went well, I’m really satisfied. The race simulation was high quality, because I went quick and I always maintained a consistent pace with no drop-offs.”
As ever Qatar will prove to be the acid test of the bikes. One question that has consistently been asked throughout the winter has been whether Stoner was really riding as hard as he could.
The Australian has always hated testing and it will be interesting to see whether he has been “sandbagging” and running slower throughout the sessions. Qualifying in the Middle East will be the first time that these questions can be answered but it is clear that the new era of MotoGP has the potential to see a more closely fought battle at the front.
Can Moto3 replicate success of Moto2?
After the success of the intermediate Moto2 class, which saw the 250cc two-strokes replaced by 600cc production based four-stroke engines, this weekend will see the inaugural Moto3 Grand Prix.
The venerable 125cc class was the last original world championship class and was a veritable “who’s who” or racing with legends such as Carlos Ubbiali, Angel Nieto and Rossi all having won the title. The class has been retired in a bid to bring it more into line with the world wide motorcycle market where four-strokes have grown more and more popular.
While many will bemoan the change it will have the added bonus of giving the possibility of a more competitive field. Recent years have seen the Aspar and Ajo squads dominate and last year was a perfect example of the closed shop that existed in the final years of the 125cc class.
Nico Terol and Johann Zarco were consistently the best riders on the grid and fought out for the majority of race wins. The preparation of their machinery was so superior to that of the majority of the grid that other riders rarely had a chance to shine.
The change to Moto3 is expected to allow the majority of the field to compete for race wins. It is hoped that the script from Moto2’s inaugural season will be repeated this year with superb racing the order of the day.
The 2010 Moto2 season opened with the previously unheralded Showa Tomizawa claiming the victory in Qatar. The Japanese rider had gone unnoticed before the change to Moto2 but by winning the first race of the season the swashbuckling Tomizawa became an instant fan favourite before an untimely crash in Misano cost him his life.
Whether the new class can create heroes as easily as the Moto2 series did remains to be seen but the hope is that the racing will at the very least allow more riders the opportunity to shine at the front of the field than has been the case in recent years.
As ever the new season will open with the entire paddock hoping that this will be their year. Ultimately there will only be one winner but for the fans the spectacle of a much improved MotoGP class, a typically exciting Moto2 season and the first ever Moto3 campaign should give more than enough reason to hope that 2012 will be a year to remember in MotoGP!