MotoGP COTA 2013 Preview

An edited version of this story, complete with hi-rez images, will appear on on Thursday.  Until then, please enjoy the raw copy.

The pressure is on Dani Pedrosa in Texas. 

For the first time ever, MotoGP invades The Lone Star State for Round 2 of the 2013 season.  The last time the best riders on Earth attacked a new track—Silverstone in 2010—the results were pretty random.  With Team Yamaha having drawn first blood over the Repsol Hondas in Qatar, Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez need to punch back right now.  The COTA circuit, which, from the air, resembles a cross between a fire axe and a can opener, looks like a good place to get it going. 

COTA layout

Running counterclockwise, also the custom at Laguna Seca and Indianapolis, riders start the race with an uphill (!) run into a sharp lefthander, which then gives way to a fast section leading to Turns 6 and 7, where things slow down.  Turn 11 is a 1st gear lefthander as severe as any corner anywhere.  The section between Turns 12 and 18 is tight and slow, appearing very Honda-friendly.  From 18, two easy lefts bring the riders back to the main straight.  There’s a difference of 133 feet from the low point to the top of Turn 1.  Bridgestone is bringing asymmetric rears, owing to the number of fast right-handers.  At 3.4 miles, COTA is one of the longer tracks we see, meaning the riders won’t get too many chances to lap during hectic this year’s 15 minute qualifying sessions.

Yamaha aces Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, along with Marquez, Pedrosa and LCR pilot Stefan Bradl, are the only riders who have spent any real time at COTA, with Marquez and Pedrosa having enjoyed a considerable advantage over their bluish rivals.  Yamaha brass claims to have made significant adjustments to the M-1’s since the testing back in March, but, regardless, the many slow turns will favor the Hondas.  As mentioned previously, the top five finishers at Silverstone in 2010 were Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso, Ben Spies, Nicky Hayden and Casey Stoner.  The prospect of seeing two Americans in the top four on Sunday is remote at best.

Alien Under Pressure

The rider most likely to be feeling the hoary fingers of fate on his windpipe this weekend is Repsol #1 Dani Pedrosa.  After a sensational off-season, and a remarkable six-wins-in-eight-outings finish in 2012, Pedrosa suffered major grip problems at Losail, and has spotted Jorge Lorenzo 12 points coming out of the gate.  And while it is unreasonable to expect Lorenzo to run away and hide from the field again this weekend, it’s NOT unreasonable to expect that he will be smooth, efficient and mistake-free on Sunday.  If Pedrosa gets his grip problems sorted out—he says he already has—then COTA should be an opportunity to gain back some ground.  But another off-podium finish this week could spell disaster for the diminutive Spaniard with the big cojones.

One man unlikely to feel much pressure at all this weekend is the rejuvenated Valentino Rossi.  Rossi was feeling it big time at Losail, especially after an uninspired qualifying practice and a poor start to the race.  Lo and behold, The Doctor is still The Doctor, as his second place finish in the desert proves.  I’m not sure Rossi gives a rip about the circuit, the competition, the weather, or the brolly girls.  He knows now, for sure, that he can again compete for another world championship.  On a weekly basis, he will need to figure out a way past Lorenzo, as Rule #1 in MotoGP is to beat your teammate.  Taking care of Pedrosa and Marquez will probably depend on the location—fairly easy at, say, Aragon, not so easy at Motegi.  Although I’ve never been a huge Rossi fan—back in the day, it was like rooting for Exxon-Mobil—it’s good to see him with the bit in his teeth and his swagger back in place.  MotoGP needs at least four Aliens.

Old News

Both Honda and Yamaha recently announced plans to lease equipment to CRT teams beginning next season.  Honda made the decision to lease complete bikes, while Yamaha is limiting their offer to engines.  The price tags are breathtaking–€1.5 million for a complete Honda RC213V, satellite quality, no in-season development included, and €1 million for an M-1 engine, same terms.  It will be fascinating to see how many teams belly up to the bar for a slim chance to run with the prototypes.

Personally, I don’t get the whole leasing thing.  The way these machines get worked each time they roll onto the track, it’s not likely the lessees will have much more than a bucket of bolts and some paint chips to turn in at the end of the season.  I suppose the rationale is that Honda and Yamaha don’t want lease customers stealing design ideas during the offseason.  Someone is going to patiently explain to me that leasing is far more economical than buying the equipment outright.  Sure.  Thanks.

To me, the program makes as much sense as leasing chewing gum, or M-80’s.  Just sayin’.

Quick Hitters from Qatar

During practice for Round 1, LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl complained of problems with the front end of his bike, some tire-related, some not.  After qualifying fifth, he met with the press and announced that the various issues had been sorted out to his satisfaction.  He then went out and folded the front on Lap 8…Bradley Smith, having crashed out on Lap 5, tells us he is “mentally scarred” from the accident, that he had been trying really hard not to crash.  Who knew?…My favorite post-race headline:  “Ducati Team riders accept ‘the reality’…Dovizioso, at least, has the chops to be able to turn a fast lap during qualifying and put himself in a decent spot on the grid.  After that, “reality” sets in.  (For a far more coherent explanation of what Ducati Corse is up against, see my friend David Emmett’s article.)  Before you know it, Ben Spies will be saying stuff like, “That was the best tenth-place finish of my life!”  Oh, wait.  He actually said that.

Your Weekend Forecast, Deep in the Heart

The forecast for the weekend is, in a word, perfect.  Sunny all three days, warming up into the 80’s on Sunday.  Regardless of the weather, the heat will be on Dani Pedrosa.

Tune into SpeedTV Sunday at 2:30 EDT for live race coverage in HD.  We’ll have the full story right here Sunday evening.

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