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GP Week : Issue 147
There are plenty of candidates for the third Moto2 title – including the first winner Toni Elias, returned after a dismal attempt to reignite his MotoGP career. But not many fans would bet against Marquez the Merciless. His progress has been Rossi-like: champion at the second attempt on a 125, second overall in his first Moto2 year. He might even have beaten Valentino with a maiden championship, after seven poles and seven wins, but he was robbed of the last two races by injury, and was thus denied. The quiet teenager has talent galore and a tactical head beyond his years (he’s now 19), and lavish backing from Repsol gives him effectively factory status with Suter. Finally recovered (so it seems) from the double vision that required surgery in January, he has all the cards in his favour. Despite some high-profile defections to the German Kalex that took Stefan Bradl to victory last year, nine Suters mean the Swiss chassis remains the most popular. Elias is one strong Suter rider, likewise fellow multi-class veteran Alex de Angelis, who won twice last year. Former 125 champ Thomas Luthi stays with the marque, and is always a threat. Look out also for race winner Yuki Takahashi (his third team and third make of bike in three years) and Swiss dark horse Dominique Aegerter. New Kalex riders include some hot prospects. Much is expected of Pol Espargaro, and the same of Briton Scott Redding (now 19, and still the youngest ever GP winner), whose Marc VDS team switched him and Mika Kallio from Suter to Kalex in protest at the special favours granted to Marquez. Claudio Corti is another Suter-to-Kalex migrant, and was fastest at Jerez tests. There are five British FTR chassis, and one Italian copy of same named Speedmaster. That is for blazing Italian Andrea Iannone, six times a race winner but very erratic on last year’s Suter. The genuine article will be ridden by, among others, the potentially formidable ex-125 champ Julian Simon. Runner up in year one, his second year was lost to injury. Don’t rule out Simone Corsi, tough Italian veteran. There are four Moriwakis, with the Gresini team fielding two; two Italian/ Japanese Motobis, and one each for MZ and AJR. Finally, two French-made Tech 3 machines, one for Briton Bradley Smith, with three rostrums at his first attempt last year. He has the promise of MotoGP promotion for 2012, so he’ll be in a hurry to do some winning. Modern GP learners take to the track on bikes with some curious echoes from the past: not least that the single- cylinder four-stroke engines have a very similar power output to the factory Norton that took Geoff Duke to the 500cc World Championship in 1951. They are a half the size and weight, and a great deal more lively than the real men’s bikes of yore. Moto3 supplants the 125 class not with control engines but with a tightly-controlled technical specification including a control ECU, a rev limit of 14,000, and capped costs. The new bikes run control Dunlop tyres, and were already rivalling 125 times at the first attempt. Honda in particular has embraced the new formula, clearly anticipating a booming future of national championships: producing a natty little over-the-counter production racer. The NSF250R has a reverse cylinder head (rear-exit exhaust) and a backward-leaning cylinder housed in the old RS125 frame. More than half the 33-strong entry, 18 bikes, are Hondas, three fitted with British FTR chassis. One of these is for Maverick Vinales, in his second year and title favourite, after last year’s contenders Nico Terol and Johann Zarco moved to Moto2. He was ultimately fastest at Jerez tests. Another for the 16-year-old sensation of Jerez tests, Romano Fenati. The Italian is the latest next big thing to follow in the wake of Rossi. There are other redoubtables on Hondas: like Efren Vazquez and Portugal’s Miguel Oliveira. But the other factory involved, KTM (nine bikes, four with Kalex frames), has cornered an impressive galaxy of talent. The main Red Bull team has German Sandro Cortese and young British star Danny Kent, the pair vying for top places at all three tests, and Kent eventually getting the better of it. There are a small handful of independent hopefuls, using two different engines. Oral Engineering, run by Mauro Forghieri (ex-Ferrari F1), have two entered under their own name, and two more entered as Mahindras, with the Indian giant running its own engine development programme in tandem with Oral. The Italian Ioda team has also made its own engine, with two on the grid. The bikes sound (according to rider Danny Webb) “like a lawnmower with a hole in the exhaust” . But the same rider and many others concurred on a more crucial aspect: the bikes are terrific fun to race. “You can really chuck ‘em around,” said Webb. Maybe the 125s won’t be missed as much as some people had imagined. MOTO2: STRENGTH IN NUMBERS MOTO3: THE NEW SOUND OF STARTING OUT 27 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: MOTOGP >>> FEATURE