Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Back to the grind stone…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes, MotoGP

Normally, I would do my weekend race preview on Friday but with the Iron Butt Rally riders returning to Denver at the end of this week I thought I’ll pull the preview in one day so I can give another IBR update after watching some of the IBR riders return from the first leg.

There are two races this weekend and both have something in common. Both venues are defined by their terrain as both are built in rolling hills. Second, both are classic courses making them among the best visited by their respective series. Finally, in both cases the main news for the weekend focuses on the two championship leaders. In fact, if the headlines on Monday aren’t focused on the two title favorites, then you can bet the biggest news will in fact have something to do with them anyway! In this case, the two events are the MotoGP Grand Prix of the Czech Republic at the Autodromo Brno and the AMA Superbike Suzuki Big Kahuna Nationals at Virginia International Raceway.

The Grand Prix weekend at Brno should be the most interesting of the two as the MotoGP riders are returning to the final third of their season after a four week break. This means that injuries will have healed, which is especially important for John Hopkins, Makoto Tamada and Tony Elias, and the tired bodies are rested. The riders that have been struggling have had some time to find motivation, those that have been under the pressure of Rossi’s mind games have had a month off to rebuild their shattered confidence and the engineers back in the R&D labs will finally have a chance to try out their latest miracle fixes for whatever ails their non-winning machines. Going into the break, it was obvious that Rossi was in the cat bird seat as he currently holds a 120 point lead over Melandri after winning all but two of the races so far this season. With 25 points awarded per win Rossi only needs two more race wins from the remaining six in order to clinch his 5th premier championship title.

The battle for second place in the championship race couldn’t offer more of a contrast compared to the battle for the lead. While Rossi is running away out front there are six riders all within 15 points of each other in the fight for the runner up spot. Currently Melandri is at the front of the scrap but only by one point over his teammate Gibernau. Another spot and another point behind them is Edwards who is then trailed by a single point by Biaggi. When four riders are spread only a single point apart you know there will be some fireworks over the next few races. With Barros and Hayden tied for sixth a further 12 points behind Biaggi it really is anyone’s guess on how the final title points tally will look.

The last three races (Laguna, Donington and Sachsenring) have shown that Rossi is the only rider with any consistency what-so-ever. The riders that have tried to build some momentum, like Hayden, Edwards and Biaggi, have all struggled during at least one round. Hayden was the golden child at Laguna with his amazing win and was equally impressive taking the third step on the Sachsenring podium but then fell off in the rain at Donington in between those results. Edwards was 2nd and 4th in the US and UK but then slipped to 8th in Germany. Biaggi has a pair of fourth place finishes but also got bitten by the rain in Britain. The only other consistency has been with DNFs. Melandri fell twice in a row before bringing it home in seventh at the Sachsenring. Likewise, Checa and Bayliss have two falls each, though the Spaniard was fifth in the wet and Bayliss was 6th in the California sunshine. Gibernau is the only rider to show improvement, going from a Laguna 5th to a DNF to second. None of these guys have put together the kind of mid-season charge needed to beat Rossi on track and none have had the consistency to stay close in the points. The final rider news is the big fat question mark that will be hanging over Shane Byrne’s head given the recent melt down between KTM and Team Roberts. I think it will be a miracle if the TeamKR bike can even take to the track since the engine, rider and tires are all in doubt.

Aerial view of Autodromo Brno

What is certain is that the 3.36 mile Brno circuit should, as it has done for nearly 20 years, provide some great racing. As I mentioned back in my Brno World Superbike race preview back in July the track is what all motorcycle race tracks should be: fast, challenging, safe and scenic. It is laid out on the hills outside Prague and the resulting elevation changes give the track a distinct character. Imagine Assen with its high speed turns and off-camber turns but laid out in the Czech hills rather than the plains of Holland. The track is filled with bumpy high speed sweeping down-hill turns which means that riders need to have near telepathic communication from their front tire. With the track being unusually wide this also means that those with confidence in their bike setup and with a bucket load of courage will have plenty of passing opportunities. Roughly half the track is taken in third gear or faster which means a bike will average over 100mph over the course of a lap and will top out over 180mph on at least two different sections of the track. This is a seriously cool track!

The AMA boys double header at VIR, in contrast to the MotoGP race, marks the penultimate round of their series with only a double header at Rd Atlanta in one week remaining. Also unlike the MotoGP series, the points battle in the superbike championship is far from decided. Thanks to two DNFs (one a mechanical failure and the second being taken out in someelse’s crash) Mat Mladin has a narrow nine point lead over his Yoshimura teammate Ben Spies despite having put on a commanding performance so far this season with eight wins. Also unlike MotoGP, the contest for the second place is more spread out with the recently resurgent Eric Bostrom trailing Spies by 54 points and Aaron Yates a further 18 points behind Bostrom. This means that Spies has enough of a cushion that he can afford to go for the broke at VIR in an effort to beat Mladin.

It is consistency that has kept Spies in the fight, especially over the last three races where he’s had a 4th, a 2nd and a 3rd, but he needs some wins in these final races to really have a shot at the #1 plate. Mladin had a second at Laguna and a first at Mid-Ohio before being torpedoed by Yates in the second Mid-Ohio race and so is still the favorite coming into this weekend…only a fool would bet against him. The fight for third doesn’t look good for Yates as it is Eboz that has earned the most points over the last three races with two wins and one third. Yates was on the podium at Laguna but then he threw his Suzuki into the dirt in both Mid-Ohio rounds which allowed his Ducati mounted rival to jump ahead of him in the title hunt. The stats would indicate that Eboz is on a roll and has the upper hand in the fight for third.

The stage upon which this end of season drama will take place is a beautiful 17 turn, 2.25 mile laid out on the the hills near Danville, VA. The venue is a classic road race circuit, unlike the NASCAR oval infields which fill out a third of the schedule, and thus one of the better events on the calendar. It is made even better because, like the Suzuki Cycle Fest that I attended last weekend, it is being promoted by RPM. They understand how to make an event successful by providing a variety of things to do above and beyond the racing. In this case, those attending the VIR event will not only have the opportunity to watch the AMA races but we also see a go kart event comprising teams made up of AMA racers, moto-journalists and fans. If the racing doesn’t do it for you SpeedTV will have a huge display area, there will be screening of the movie Faster, a motorcycle stunt demonstration team will be performing, there will be live music in the evenings and a vendor area for those interested in shopping for motorcycle gear. This is a seriously cool event!

Not a bad weekend of entertainment, whether you’re watching a great GP race at Brno on TV or if you’re lucky enough to be attending the AMA superbike weekend in Virginia.

[image from the Autodromo Brno web page.]