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GP Week : Issue 145
MotoGP is gearing up for a season like no other. For the first time, the class has two tiers, two types of machinery. But the picture up at the front will not be unfamiliar. Who would bet against it being led by a feisty Australian, intent on following in the footsteps of his boyhood hero? He is of course Casey Stoner, and the hero Mick Doohan. Riding in the same Repsol Honda team is one ambition fulfilled. Casey still needs to win three more titles to match the mighty one. The plan for 2012 is obvious. Casey leads the factory Honda charge alongside Spaniard Dani Pedrosa. Given the strength of the machine and the test results so far, he might easily be the biggest threat: his race-winning potential is not in doubt but a tendency to get hurt has spoiled season after season for him. Honda’s new V4 (for the first time, rules dictate the number of cylinders) follows on from last year’s RCV. Having finally achieved chassis and electronic balance, and adding a seamless-shift gearbox, it was at last the class of the 800 field. There’s no reason why the superiority should not transfer to the new 1000cc class, in spite of the 25-percent capacity boost. Except perhaps one: a curve ball thrown by control tyre suppliers Bridgestone. A spate of cold-tyre high-sides last year, including several injuries, prompted a rethink of carcase and compound, offering quicker and less sensitive warm-up. So far so good; the riders like them. But when they started to get up to speed at Sepang tests, they found serious problems with tyre chatter. This deleterious vibration mid-corner can be solved with chassis tuning, but it’s a black art. If Honda are slow to find resolution (and it took them four years with the 800), that gives the opposition a chance. That means Yamaha. Suzuki, such as they were, have gone; Ducati is battling to regain momentum after a disastrous first year with Rossi. Yamaha may lack a serious title sponsor for a second year, but they have riding strength aplenty. Jorge Lorenzo was inch-perfect last year, although the small but distinct machine deficit meant he had to ride the wheels off it ... and eventually (as he has predicted) he crashed. Team-mate Ben Spies starts a second factory year with one win in his pocket, and a strong need to take the next step. Because he has new satellite rider Andrea Dovizioso breathing down his neck. Dovi, dropped from the Honda factory squad after a career serving the manufacturer, spurned offers of a satellite ride there to cross the floor to join the Tech 3 Yamaha satellite squad. He is on a mission to avenge his reputation, and as proof he was fastest Yamaha (third overall) at the second Sepang test. Since all the bikes are new, there will be less difference than usual between factory and satellite machines, and the Italian’s aim is to force his way into the factory team. Team-mate Cal Crutchlow was also impressive at Sepang. Ducati? With the “no-feel” carbon mini-chassis dumped in favour of MOTOGP >>> FEATURE 30 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: