Moto GP: San Marino GP Preview

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Moto GP: San Marino GP Preview

This weekend is the Round 13 of the 2008 Moto GP season, which will be taking place at Misano.

 

It has been a very exciting season so far providing a lot of twists and turns along the way, and this weekend will see a critical race in the championship fight. However, it is Valentino Rossi who is at the top of the championship with a 50-point lead, which is equivalent to two Moto GP victories with 6 rounds to go.

 

Full championship standings/Stats

 

  1. Valentino Rossi              237 points
  2. Casey Stoner                187 points
  3. Dani Pedrosa                172 points
  4. Jorge Lorenzo               120 points
  5. Andrea Dovizioso          110 points
  6. Colin Edwards               102 points
  7. Chris Vermeulen             99 points
  8. Nicky Hayden                 84 points

 

Number of wins

 

  1. Valentino Rossi              5 wins
  2. Casey Stoner                4 wins
  3. Dani Pedrosa                2 wins
  4. Jorge Lorenzo               1 win

 

Number of Pole positions

 

  1. Casey Stoner                6 poles
  2. Jorge Lorenzo               3 poles
  3. Colin Edwards               1 pole
  4. Dani Pedrosa                1 pole
  5. Valentino Rossi             1 pole

 

Summary of the championship so far

 

The start of the season was very mixed with three different winners in the first three races. Stoner started as he finished last season with a win in the first night race in Qatar. Dani Pedrosa then took victory in Spain in front of his home fans. In the next race Jorge Lorenzo took his first Moto GP win in only his third race to go along with the three straight pole positions he had already taken in his first three races.

 

At that point the championship looked like this

 

Pedrosa 61             Lorenzo 61     Rossi 47        Stoner 40

 

Valentino Rossi then won his first race of the season in China, which he won in a race long battle with Pedrosa by turning on the style in the last few laps. This ended one of his worse win droughts in his career. Rossi then won the next two races as he mastered the changeable conditions in Le Mans and continued his winning streak in Mugello in front of his home fans.

 

After this race the championship looked like this:

 

Rossi 122            Pedrosa 110            Lorenzo 94     Stoner 76

 

Rossi’s return to the winner’s roster had seen him back at the head of the championship whilst Pedrosa’s consistency kept him well in the hunt. Stoner however was having a disappointing run, which included technical failure at Le Mans, and he was slipping back fast.

 

Next was the second Spanish race in Catalunya. Pedrosa won again in front of his home fans. Sadly Lorenzo had to withdraw from this event through injury and since this point in the championship the Lorenzo we saw in the first three races hasn’t returned due to injury issues and a general lack of confidence due to this.

 

After this race it was the return of Ducati and Stoner. Ducati had a major update on the bike and this brought a big increase in performance. Stoner comfortably took pole and dominated the next two races at Assen and Donington.

 

He also took a third win at a rain soaked German GP. However unlike the last two races he hadn’t led from start to finish. Pedrosa, a rider who isn’t normally comfortable in the wet stormed away with the lead. He was around 10 seconds ahead when he made an error on the pit straight going into turn 1 and fell in a very high speed crash. Stoner inherited the lead and took his third straight victory.

 

This series of races left the championship looking like this:

 

Rossi 187            Pedrosa 171   Stoner 167            Lorenzo 114

 

This crash for Pedrosa whilst leading comfortably has turned out to be a real turning point in his season. His injuries from his high-speed crash meant he couldn’t take part in the next race at Laguna Seca.

 

This left it to Rossi and Stoner to battle it out at the front. It was clear Stoner’s Ducati was fastest again as he took pole position. Rossi needed to get in front before turn one to have any chance of victory, which he duly did.

 

Laguna Seca is a hard track to pass at and try as he might Stoner could not find a way past Rossi who was making his Yamaha as wide as possible. This was turning into a classic duel which saw Rossi and Stoner running side by side into the corkscrew and kicking up dirt off the track at times. In fact Rossi nearly ended the race for both of them at one point! It was hard racing of the extreme nature. Stoner was definitely getting a little flustered and he fell at the last turn but was able to carry on. Rossi was long gone now but at least Stoner got second place.

 

Stoner wasn’t happy about Rossi’s hard racing tactics and this ended up in a war of words with Stoner ending up as the enemy. Rossi has psychologically beaten rivals in the past and there were signs of this here.

 

The next race (and the last race) was in Brno. Pedrosa was struggling on his Michelin tyres and Lorenzo was still lacking confidence meaning it was to be the sequel of the Rossi and Stoner duel. Stoner took pole and went off in the lead. However he wasn’t able to scamper into the distance and Rossi kept him in his sights and put the pressure on. Mid-race, Stoner pushed slightly too hard and fell off his bike allowing Rossi into the lead to take a comfortable victory.

 

Looking ahead at the rest of the championship

 

The last two races have certainly had a huge impact on the championship. Pedrosa has only scored one point in the last three races due to his big accident in Germany and Michelin’s extremely poor performance in Brno. This means that his championship charge has fallen back dramatically and he trails Rossi by a massive 65 points. Due to Stoner’s fall in Brno and zero points he has also slipped back further from Rossi and has a 50 points deficit.

 

Winning a championship from that far behind isn’t impossible (Rossi almost managed it in 2006 before throwing it all away in the final race) It means that Stoner can’t afford any more errors and needs to win the majority of the last six races and hopes Rossi drops big points somewhere to have any chance of the title.

 

Stoner’s main problem with closing the gap is there are hardly any riders who can finish between him and Rossi which means that he is only realistically going to be able to take a maximum of five points off him per race. Lorenzo is lacking confidence and is on the Michelins, which are weaker than Bridgestone at the moment. Pedrosa is still recovering from the crash in Germany and like Lorenzo is on the Michelins. Stoner’s team mate Marco Melandri has been struggling to adapt to the Ducati all season long, meaning that Stoner doesn’t have a wingman in his own team to help him out and take points off Rossi.

 

It’s a shame that Lorenzo and Pedrosa have both had falls .This ended up affecting their championship campaigns so badly as we could have had a 4-way fight instead of a possible 2-way fight or a 3-way fight if we get a really crazy conclusion to the season.

 

It is certainly Rossi’s to lose now and it all seems to be going his way. However, Stoner won’t stop trying and he will keep on fighting until it is mathematically over and hope that Rossi encounters a problem somewhere. Pedrosa will be hoping the same thing but his bike isn’t as strong as Stoner’s and he is struggling with Michelin tyres so his chances are pretty slim. One mistake in Germany has effectively destroyed his championship.

 

Overall I feel Rossi has one hand on the trophy. In Stoner’s favour is the fact that all the pressure is on Rossi to wrap up the championship whereas Stoner can maybe relax a little bit more. However it would be a huge shock to everyone in Moto GP if Rossi were to throw away a 50-point championship lead within just six races. Of course in motorsport, anything can happen.

 

Predictions for Misano

 

So the fightback for Casey Stoner has to start here. Can he beat Rossi this weekend? I think Ducati definitely have the fastest bike at the moment but I feel Yamaha have been closing the gap recently. Also this is effectively a home GP for Rossi (despite the San Marino GP tag) so he will be inspired in front of his home crowd and this will act as a real leveler between the battling pair. However Rossi has never won a race at Misano strangely enough, and he will want to put that record straight in this weekend’s race (although Misano only came back onto the calendar last season after a 14 year absence). Talking of records, if Rossi wins this weekend, he will equal Giacomo Agostini’s record 68 victories in the premier class. Many recognize Agostina, as the greatest Moto GP rider of all time so to equal his record would be a big achievement.

 

I wouldn’t like to predict which way this one is going to go. I think Stoner definitely has the edge over Rossi in qualifying. Stoner has qualified on pole for the last 6 races so he is on a role at the moment whereas recently, qualifying hasn’t been Rossi’s strong point. I think this race will follow a similar pattern to Brno with Rossi trying to keep up with Stoner in the early stages of the race and try something later on in the race (he didn’t have to in the end). Hopefully we will see another classic battle between them as we did in Laguna Seca. My money has to be on Rossi though, mainly due to his home advantage and the hostile reception Stoner may get all weekend, which may agitate him. Saying nasty things about Rossi after a race (as Stoner did after Laguna Seca), when millions adore him, is never going to win over fans in Moto GP and I think Stoner will have learnt his lesson from Laguna Seca.

 

I can’t see anyone else bothering Rossi and Stoner at the front as both are just to quick for anyone at the moment and as mentioned earlier, Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Melandri all have their problems.

 

The midfield battle between Suzukis, the improved Kawasakis and the other Ducatis and Hondas in the last race was absolutely electric and one of the highlights of the race. This weekend I think the home crowd might inspire Capirossi to sneak a podium here.

 

The other main talking point of last weekend was the dismal performance of the Michelin tyres. For 2 race weekends running the Michelins has been next to hopeless in terms of performance. At the beginning of the season it looked as if they could take the fight to Bridgestone but they have got worse as the season has progressed.

 

Some of the cynics were hoping that Rossi’s controversial move to Bridgestones would put egg on his face. At the start of the season, that seemed possible as in qualifying particularly, Michelin were stronger. However, at the moment, it’s looking like Rossi may have made a very shrewd move.

 

The pressure will be really on Michelin in Misano to find a solution to their issues otherwise, we could get a situation where nobody will want their tyres next season and we could end up with Bridgestone being the sole tyre supplier. This one could rumble on till the end of the season. How will Michelin cope with the track surface in Indianapolis in the race after Misano? They showed they couldn’t cope with it in F1!

 

Back to Misano I think all the ingredients are there for a classic race and even though Moto GP isn’t my first love in motorsport I am eagerly anticipating this race.

 

My top three prediction

 

1. Rossi 2. Stoner 3. Capirossi

 

Enjoy the race!

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