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GP Week : Issue 40
>>MOTOpreview TEAM LCR HONDA One of the most businesslike teams in racing, Lucio Cecchinello’s little squad survives once again, with new part-time Playboy sponsorship: the former 125 GP winner is innovative commercially, pioneering single-event team backing and patchwork fairing stickers. It fields the same rider as last year – the crash- prone but sometimes surprising Frenchman Randy de Puniet. In contrast to his surname, Randy is a tough little customer, with years of nearly-there experience in 250s, including five race wins. Gritty rides brought a single MotoGP rostrum with Kawasaki, but his switch to the LCR Honda last year was marked by a few fast laps and again too many crashes. Former GP winner Cecchinello, himself once nicknamed ‘Chuck-It-Away’, reaffirmed his faith in Randy before the start of this season: “I know a good rider,” he insisted. Randy himself stayed aboard at those Jerez tests, but was disappointingly 13th. He should be capable of better. Then again, he was fastest of the new pneumatic-valve-spring privateer Hondas, which (among other weaknesses) have a relatively low rev limit of 18,200 rpm. TEAM SCOT HONDA The Italy-based Team Scot is highly experienced and decorated in the 125 and 250 classes, but it starts its second year in MotoGP having lost the services of valued protégé Andrea Dovizioso to the factory. By way of compensation HRC supplied a bike, along with the very strong suggestion that the team’s 250 rider Yuki Takahashi should be on board. Not surprisingly, Honda remains as anxious as all its compatriots that Japan should one day produce a 500-class World Champion. PRAMAC DUCATI Pramac’s Ducatis also come with strings attached, and a change of factory policy sees Elias and Guintoli replaced by a pair of raw class rookies, ex-125 and 250 title contender Mika Kallio and sparky young Italian Niccolò Canepa. Kallio, a typically taciturn Finn, has taken to the big bikes like an iceberg to the Titanic. Impressively fast from the start, the 26-year-old placed sixth at Jerez tests, second-fastest on a Ducati. All done in his methodical way. A very interesting future prospect. Canepa’s progress to the top class has been not only rapid: he has also bypassed all the usual learning stages, such as a few years in the smaller classes. The national championship rider (20) came to prominence last year with highly impressive test performances for Ducati, plus a couple of promising Superbike runs. Very much in at the deep end, he was slowest of the regulars at Jerez tests. The Alice (pronounce the last syllable ‘chay’, please, not as in Wonderland) team has the potential to do more than just fill out the grid. Takahashi is the latest to be handed the gauntlet, and the only Japanese in the class. It’s not going to be easy. In the six years since his first 250 GP, Takahashi has won just twice; and has also shown a propensity to luckless bad injuries. At the last round of tests (14th), he was still a long way from coming to terms with his new machine; this will be very much a learning year. He could not ask for much better tutelage than he will get from the respected Italian team. GRUPO FRANCISCO HERNANDEZ DUCATI The new team and fifth Ducati has quite a story. The return of one- time glamour-boy challenger to Rossi Sete Gibernau after two years away is just the start. There’s sponsor Hernandez too, multi- millionaire slum-dog property developer, famous throughout Spain as ‘El Pocero’ (the Sewer-digger). Controversial property deals in the past are excelled by his current major project in Equatorial Guinea, hand in hand with the oil-rich West African country’s notorious dictator. By the time the new team got to the Jerez test, however, the EG logo had disappeared from the fairing. And Sete? A bad start, home early from first tests and missing the second with a troublesome old shoulder injury. And a lot to learn, with new-generation highly-electronic 800cc machines: he last raced on a 990. But Sete acquitted himself well at Jerez tests, placing eighth when the lap times mattered, and looking fast and neat. Old dog, new tricks? And at 36 he’s the oldest. But so far the spirit certainly seems willing, and he’s won nine GPs in the past. 51