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GP Week : Issue 75
the MV, and the pair duelled mightily for two years before Honda abruptly pulled out of racing in 1967. And that was that. But it takes more than two riders to make a golden age. And the racing doesn't always have to be tooth and nail. Statistics show that during the real golden age, not every race had a close finish. People remember the fierce battles, and there were many of them. but there were plenty of times also when the racing was more or less processional. I recall Schwantz once saying to Rainey: "It's pretty much settled after the first two laps are done." What made the time great however was something else: when the starting flag dropped, no matter who was on pole, you still didn't know who was going to win the race. By this criterion, 2009 failed to come up to vintage expectations -- but only narrowly. The Barcelona race, for instance, was in doubt not only at the start but right up until the last corner, when Valentino taught team-mate Jorge Lorenzo a good lesson in never dropping your guard. But with Stoner going off sick mid-year and Pedrosa injured from the start and then again in the early stages, it was mainly just the two of them. The forthcoming 2010 season still has every potential, and perhaps more. There are still the same four on the grid -- Rossi, Lorenzo, Stoner, Pedrosa -- with the proven ability to win, in all sorts of circumstances. But there may be more. Ben Spies was more or less straight up to speed in tests, just as he was for his World Superbike campaign. Nicky Hayden has a lot to prove, and is getting to grips with the Ducati at last. Dovizioso may have disappointed last year, but in his second season on the factory Honda, he's made a good start. Neither Melandri nor Capirossi should be forgotten, on their day. Or is it just wishful thinking? Maybe not. Another requirement for a golden age is a variety of machinery. Back then Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki were each fully competitive. It might over-stretch the imagination to expect Suzuki to join the 2010 party except as occasional dancing partner, but with luck and good engineering there will still be three potential winners, with Ducati taking Suzuki's place. Time will of course tell, and as usual there will be tracks that suit either the Ducati or the Yamaha (and maybe now and then even the Honda), and the contest will be an inevitable procession. But not at every track. There are encouraging signs. In the second year of control tyres, chassis designers should have got closer to the requirements ... last year Ducati and Yamaha were both ahead of this particular game. The major point of having control tyres at all was to make the racing more competitive, but the different stiffness of the tyres compared with the Michelins Honda for one was used to caught the engineers off guard. Now, after a year of experience, there should be no more excuses. Bear in mind also that the field is operating a sort of voluntary control suspension rule as well -- with Honda's factory team making the jump, everybody uses Öhlins. In the end, it's up to the riders. And the only shadow falls over Lorenzo, who is still at the tail end of a long recuperation period for vexing wrist injuries from a motocross crash. The rest are fighting fit, and raring to go. So are the fans ... Remember when ... Gardner (far left and below right), Schwantz (above left), Rainey (above), and a recent Mick Doohan (left). All were contenders in the last great golden era .... how does it compare with MotoGP 2010-style? Moto GP FEATURE >> 41