A championship isn't won at the opening race but it's impossible to underestimate the value of Jorge Lorenzo's victory in Qatar. Yamaha spent the whole of 2011 playing catch-up while their lead rider performed minor-miracles in an attempt to beat the Hondas. But 2012 is looking like a whole new ball game with pole position and race victory going the way of Lorenzo at Losail.
But establishing a true pecking order in MotoGP with a sample of one is dangerous, and this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix will provide another fascinating insight.
Casey Stoner will point to the arm pump which handicapped him in the latter stages in Qatar as the reason for his surrender of the lead and Dani Pedrosa was snapping at the heels of Lorenzo from start to finish, despite qualifying on the third row. Make no mistake about it, Yamaha are a genuine threat to the defending champions but they will tell you that they failed to execute a trouble-free weekend in Qatar, and will make up for that at Jerez.
Yamaha didn't exactly stay out of trouble themselves but all their bad luck went the way of Ben Spies who endured a miserable start to the campaign. The American crashed on two occasions before he even made it to the start line and in clear discomfort, could only take his YZR-M1 to 11th place. Jerez doesn't hold the greatest of memories for him either after he threw away a certain podium finish, but he certainly wasn't alone on that score.
Wet weather 12 months ago was the catalyst for the race of the season, and one of the most dramatic moments in many a year. Valentino Rossi, in just his second race for Ducati, was scything his way through the field and had climbed to third when he encountered Casey Stoner. When the inevitable move came into turn one, the front end of the GP11 folded underneath the Italian and swept Stoner off the road. Casey cheekily suggested that Rossi's “ambition outweighed his talent”while his rival could only apologise for his error.
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The race for the podium places turned into last man standing as Marco Simoncelli crashed out of the lead while Andrea Dovizioso, Ben Spies, Cal Crutchlow and Colin Edwards all came a cropper. Jorge Lorenzo was faultless though and duly took victory from Dani Pedrosa with Nicky Hayden capitalising on his teammate's misfortune to take third. Who'd have believed that would be his last podium finish of the year?
If Qatar is anything to go by, the 2006 World Champion looks unlikely to end that drought this weekend. The GP12 couldn't match the leaders' pace at any stage in the Qatar Grand Prix and was over 1.5s slower at some stages, leaving Hayden sixth, 28 seconds off the lead. Rossi's race went downhill in a hurry after Hector Barbera forced him off track on lap five but even in clear air, he wasn't on the pace either. Like everybody else, Ducati tested here for three days back in March so if there were any excuses in Qatar, they won't apply here.
Their target will surely be to beat the satellite bikes but Cal Crutchlow will have other ideas. The Briton qualified on the front row for the first time in MotoGP last time out before equalling his best race result with fourth. Andrea Dovizioso will be smarting after losing their head-to-head duel at Losail but Cal will be looking forward, and has a maiden podium finish firmly in his sights.
As impressive as Crutchlow was in Qatar, the most impressive display came from German debutant Stefan Bradl. The reigning Moto2 champion was filling the vacancy left by Toni Elias but showed no signs of struggling like his predecessor, running a comfortable sixth early in the race. The final result of eighth may have been a slight disappointment under the circumstances but Bradl has proven already that he belongs in the premier class.
The same can be said of Michele Pirro who far exceeded expectations on Gresini's CRT bike. In fact, the Claiming Rules teams will all have been satisfied with their debut outing as they comfortably qualified for the race despite many seeing their riders bin it in qualifying. Colin Edwards won the CRT mini-race in Qatar by over 12 seconds in the end and the Aspar team in particular will be keen to strike back in Spain.
Paul Bird Motorsport probably had the toughest baptism of the MotoGP newcomers and the three week break will have been well received in Penrith. James Ellison did make it to the chequered flag in Qatar though and that must be the target again here.
Moto2 made a typically eventful return to action as Marc Marquez took victory to underline his pre-season favourite tag. Thomas Luthi will still be seething tough after being pushed off the road on the last lap and after topping every practice session in Qatar, will be out for revenge this weekend. Scott Redding and Bradley Smith both began their 2012 campaigns with points finishes and will head to Jerez in good form. Gino Rea, meanwhile, had a debut to forget and will be hoping for better on a circuit he has past experience of.
The inaugural Moto3 race also provided action aplenty but, as expected, Maverick Vinales was the man to beat. Few expected Italian debutant Romano Fenati to push him quite so hard but the Team Italia rider was inspired. The swarm of KTMs will expect to pose more of a threat this weekend, including Danny Kent, so don't expect another Vinales runaway.
The entry class also sees the debut of last year's Spanish 125cc runner-up who goes by the name of Alex Marquez and yes, he is related to the man who has taken Moto2 by storm. Alex, the younger brother of Marc, will race as a wildcard for the Monlau Competicion team and it will be fascinating to see how he gets on.
His first venture out onto track will be at 8:15am tomorrow with qualifying for all three classes taking place on Saturday afternoon. The Moto3 race kicks off Sunday's race action at 10am with Moto2 and MotoGP following later in the day. The Checkered Flag will have full coverage throughout the weekend.
Jerez Former Winners:
|2011||Jorge Lorenzo||Andrea Iannone||Nicolas Terol|
|2010||Jorge Lorenzo||Toni Elias||Pol Espargaro|
|2009||Valentino Rossi||Hiroshi Aoyama||Bradley Smith|
|2008||Dani Pedrosa||Mika Kallio||Simone Corsi|
|2007||Valentino Rossi||Jorge Lorenzo||Gabor Talmacsi|
|2006||Loris Capirossi||Jorge Lorenzo||Alvaro Bautista|
|2005||Valentino Rossi||Dani Pedrosa||Marco Simoncelli|
|2004||Sete Gibernau||Roberto Rolfo||Marco Simoncelli|
|2003||Valentino Rossi||Toni Elias||Lucio Cecchinello|
|2002||Valentino Rossi||Fonsi Nieto||Lucio Cecchinello|
|*No Moto3 races have been held at Jerez|