Following his dominant victory at Indianapolis last weekend, Repsol Honda’s Danny Pedrosa will look to make it two in a row at this weekend’s Czech Grand Prix at the Brno circuit to further close the points gap to current championship leader Jorge Lorenzo.
With the paddock still coming to terms with Casey Stoner’s withdrawal from the race following his horrific qualifying crash that left him with severe ankle injuries it will be an interesting weekend with a spot on the podium being the prize for one of the less usual suspects now that one of the “aliens” as Colin Edwards refers to the big four (Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Stoner and Rossi) are missing. Stoner won’t be alone on the sidelines as other series regulars Hector Barbera and Nicky Hayden will also miss the Czech race.
With Repsol Honda deciding not to replace Stoner this weekend it’s a win-win situation for Dani Pedrosa as he will no longer have his team-mate able to take points from him in the race for the championship. It also means Pedrosa has the sole attention of the Japanese factory. With just seven races to go and an 18 point gap to overcome. Pedrosa will need every advantage he can get. Interestingly Pedrosa has never won in the Moto GP class at this circuit despite being victorious when riding 125cc and 250cc bikes at the track. Things are looking good for Pedrosa as he topped the Friday practice sessions to lay down a marker for Lorenzo.
That’s not to say that Jorge Lorenzo will be troubled. Easily the most consistent rider in the paddock since his championship winning year of 2010. Lorenzo has overcome the deficits of the Yamaha’s lack of grunt when compared to Honda’s power and straight-line speed advantage to always be within reach of the championship lead. Lorenzo goes into the weekend confident that he can claim victory. A fall in second practice didn’t worry Lorenzo however who spent most of the session working on a race set-up for Sunday’s race.
Lorenzo’s team-mate Ben Spies will go into the weekend looking for a drastic upturn in form following what can only be described as a disastrous season to date. From unreliability issues to struggling with the tyres. If something has gone wrong at Yamaha this season it’s usually happened on Spies bike. Spies looked to be the only genuine challenger to Pedrosa before being forced out of the race with an engine failure. If Spies can continue the form he showed at Indianapolis he’s a dark horse for a victory and a definite podium challenger if he can hold off the Tech 3 Yamahas of Dovizioso and Crutchlow.
Dovizioso comes into the weekend off the back of an impressive podium finish at Indianapolis where he battled with Casey Stoner for the final step on the podium. He’s also announced this week that he will join Ducati on a two year deal. The inter-team battle of the two Tech 3 bikes this season has been a joy to watch and Crutchlow will be looking to get one over his team-mate with the added motivation that Dovizioso claimed the Ducati ride that Crutchlow had been negotiating for with the Italian squad up until just a few weeks ago. With Cruthclow still looking for a ride next season, he’ll want to improve on his recent form so that he can improve his negotiating position.
The likely battle behind these three will be that of the two privateer Hondas. Stefan Bradl has been mightily impressive all season on his LCR ran Honda to the point that Honda Racing Corporation have already confirmed that he’ll remain on their books for a second season. The young German claimed a HRC contract off the back of his victorious Moto2 championship season last year. Having been quick in practice already this weekend Bradl will be looking to possibly upset the apple cart and make an appearance on the podium.
Fellow privateer Honda rider Alvaro Bautista has not had the greatest of seasons on his Gresini Honda machine. Although Bautista is in a unique situation running Showa suspension on his Honda. Set up issues have left him usually in the squabble for 7th or 8th come race day and his lack of qualifying speed has hurt him even though his race pace is generally quite good. Breaking into the top 6 is probably the best he can expect this weekend. He’s still largely living under the shadow of the late Marco Simoncelli’s performances for the team last season before his untimely passing. Gresini claimed a podium here 12 months ago but I would not expect that this year.
The struggles of Valentino Rossi continued at Indianapolis and I would personally think he must be counting down the laps until he leaves Ducati as the dream has most definitely become a nightmare. With just a solitary podium this season Rossi has struggled on a bike that despite major changes and overhauls just does not seem to give the former champion enough confidence to push it beyond it’s limits. Some have said it’s up to Rossi to adapt to the bike and to stop trying to turn the bike into a red Yamaha, but the Italian has been scathing at times regarding the bike’s handling and power delivery to the point where one has to wonder if he’s still motivated enough to get the best out of the Ducati package. The Doctor did have an excellent second session this afternoon finishing within half of a second of Pedrosa’s time. Whether or not they can maintain that gap will be key to whether or not Rossi can have a successful weekend. Finishing ahead of Bradl and Bautista may be the best he could hope for.
Toni Elias will once again replace Barbera at Pramac Ducati this weekend. Elias has struggled with limited running since quitting the Aspar Moto2 team mid-season. Fellow privateer Ducati rider Karel Abraham will hope to make the most of his home race. A top 10 finish would be satisfactory for the Czech if he can keep the ride side up. Abraham’s season thus far has been punctuated by habitual crashes. He will need to keep ahead of the leading CRT bikes if he is to do so.
The CRT riders should be lead by the usual duo of Randy de Puniet and Aleix Espargaro on their Aspar Aprilia’s. Both have struggled with reliability issues during the season and de Puniet was forced to retire at the Indianapolis race following more issues with his bike. Michele Pirro and Yonni Hernandez should be the two closest competitors to the Aspar bikes.
Man to watch: Dani Pedrosa. He’s on a charge and for the first time in his career hasn’t had to deal with a serious injury due to a crash during the season. He’s laid down a marker for the weekend by topping both Friday sessions and has the full attention of Repsol Honda. Ignore at your peril. At a price of 6/5 with William Hills at the moment I would probably wait to see how qualifying shakes out to see if his price drifts if Lorenzo claims pole position.
Top Bet: If you can find Stefan Bradl for a top 6 finish at anything above 7/10 I’d personally recommend that.