2011 Estoril MotoGP Preview - Rematch In The Rain

Pity the poor Portuguese MotoGP round. While so many other races sit ostentatiously in fixed slots in the calendar - Qatar as the season opener in March or April, Assen on the last Saturday in June, Laguna Seca as the last race in July before the summer break, Valencia as the last race of the season in November - the Estoril round of MotoGP is constantly being shoved back and forth in the calendar, from early to late and back to early again. Race fans planning a visit to the Portuguese Grand Prix are forced to wait for the calendar to be finalized before deciding whether to book a trip to the track on the edge of the Atlantic.

That vast body of water is part of the problem: the reason for shifting the Estoril MotoGP race back and forth in the calendar - apart from fitting it in among the more solid fixtures in the season - is to avoid the wet and windy conditions that so often prevail whenever the series visits the track. It is hard to blame the weather entirely on the circuit, however; MotoGP only ever visits the track in either early spring or late autumn, times of year when the nearby Atlantic plays a more active role in the weather, bringing wind and rain to the circuit on a regular basis.

Of course, if MotoGP were to visit in June or July, the chances of dry, sunny weather would be vastly improved. But with those two summer months heavily booked with MotoGP's classics, the only chance that sparsely attended Estoril has is in the tempestuous months of the year. It seems likely that this climatological mismatch will cost the circuit its MotoGP race, with strong indications that the series will not return to the circuit once the current contract expires after the race on Sunday.

For the fans, Estoril's fickle weather - and it is expected to be wet and windy again this weekend - could turn out quite nicely. The previous race to be run in the rain and wind was, well, the previous race, the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez. And that turned into one of the most fascinating spectacles of recent years, with weather conditions - and a large dose of impetuosity - shaking up the order established in practice, and leaving the previously prepared script of the weekend in tatters.

The key to the excitement at Jerez was mainly down to the different way that the various MotoGP machines were handling the soft Bridgestone rain tires. The Hondas struggled to get the tires to work in the early laps, requiring a steady hand and a moderate pace, but got better and better (or more accurately, didn't drop off as badly) as the race went on. The Ducatis, on the other hand, were fast from the moment the flag dropped, but went AWOL shortly before the halfway stage.

It was therefore almost inevitable that Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner would come together at some point, though neither man intended that meeting to be quite so physically literal as it turned out. From the off Rossi was on a charge, moving quickly forward through the field, while Casey Stoner was holding station, biding his time until his tires came in. What should have happened is that we should have had two battles during the Jerez race, with Rossi having to work to get past Stoner early on, then battling to hold the Repsol Honda off as Stoner's tires came good and the Marlboro Ducati's tires went off. Instead, Rossi skittled Stoner by dint of an overenthusiastic approach into Turn 1, entering beyond the point of no return and taking Stoner out on his way down.

The pair will get a second chance at Estoril, with heavy rain forecast for race day. Simplifying things for all concerned will be the fact that rain is expected throughout the weekend, with every session likely to see either rain or at least a wet track. And given the fact that wet conditions are both easier on Valentino Rossi's shoulder and make it easier to ride around the problems which continue to dog the Ducati GP11, rain would be the seven-time World Champion's best chance of continuing his astonishing run of podium finishes at the Portuguese circuit. Of the 11 visits he has paid to Estoril, 10 of them have ended on the podium, 2009 being the only exception so far. A wet race would make it much easier for Rossi to keep that streak alive.

Yet rain is the last thing that Ducati really need. Rossi and his crew, headed by legendary crew chief Jeremy Burgess, are struggling to make the Ducati competitive, the bike suffering chronic understeer. With new parts coming to Estoril ready for the test on Monday, what Ducati need is more time in the dry to evaluate the parts. The major parts - including a new chassis - would probably have to wait until the test, but gambling on the new parts was an option if the weekend had remained dry. Ducati are still behind the curve with their development, and rain at Estoril is exactly not what the Doctor ordered if they are to make progress.

Whenever Casey Stoner hears of the need for development work on the Ducati, the - now - Repsol Honda rider takes obvious delight in pointing out that this was the machine he won three of the last six races of 2010 on, the 2011 bike being virtually identical to the Desmosedici GP10 machine. Estoril, however, was not one of those races, Stoner crashing out again in Portugal, betrayed by the Ducati's capricious front end. Now that he is on a Honda, the Australian no longer has to fear front-end issues, the 2011 RC212V looking streets ahead of the competition.

That did not help at Jerez, though, Stoner being taken out when Valentino Rossi folded the Ducati's front end underneath the Honda, leaving both men (temporarily in Rossi's case) in the gravel. After having been bitten by the weakness of the Ducati - prompting a host of jokes about Stoner still having trouble with the Ducati front end - he received a second bite from the weakness of the Honda, the RC212V almost impossible to start without a special tool to lock the slipper clutch. Forced out of the race, the Australian could do nothing but stand idly (and angrily) by as his competitors piled on the points.

The Honda clearly works, and Stoner is undeniably fast, and no doubt the Australian will be out for revenge in Portugal. Stoner's record at Estoril is far from perfect, crashing out of three of his five appearances. The one thing that Stoner has on his side is motivation, and if he can demonstrate the maturity he showed at Qatar - and stay out of the way of overly optimistic rivals - he should be able to claw back some of the points he lost in Jerez.

Stoner's biggest challenge in Portugal is beating the man who has dominated there since his arrival in the MotoGP class. Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo was won all three of the MotoGP races he has started at Estoril, and given the calmness of his approach so far this season, is surely the hot favorite to make it four in a row. While all of the focus has been on the brilliance of the Honda, the speed of Casey Stoner, the poor handling of the Ducati, and Valentino Rossi's struggle with his shoulder, Jorge Lorenzo has been taking advantage of the agility and stability of the Yamaha M1 to build a promising lead in the title race.

The Yamaha riders are complaining of a lack of horsepower - a common refrain ever since Valentino Rossi joined the factory in 2004 - but even at a track which places a premium on top end like Qatar, Lorenzo managed to finish 2nd. At Jerez, the reigning World Champion kept his cool while others around him were losing theirs, and cruised home to take another convincing victory, the bike still providing drive even though the Bridgestone wets were nearly destroyed. If a World Champion could be said to be operating under the radar, that is just what Lorenzo is doing, and this, above all else, is what makes him the danger man.

The man Lorenzo leads in the title race should be breathing a huge sigh of relief in Portugal, almost regardless of the result. Dani Pedrosa's doctors finally pinned down the cause of the Repsol Honda rider's injury problems just prior to Jerez, and immediately after the race, Pedrosa had yet another operation, this time to remove the plate that had been inserted to stabilize his collarbone broken at Motegi last year. The screws from that plate, it appears, had been blocking bloodflow to his arm, but only when his arm was being held in a specific position. The problem was, that specific position was when hanging off a MotoGP machine, the pain, weakness and numbness in his arm only occurring during racing.

With the plate now out, Pedrosa should be able to race freely, his only concern his still slightly weakened collarbone. Ideally, the plate would have been left in his shoulder for twelve months rather than six, so the collarbone is not at 100% yet. Added to that, removing the screws will have weakened the bone, that procedure requiring four to six weeks to correct itself completely. Just over three weeks after having the plate removed, Pedrosa's collarbone will still be vulnerable, and a crash could break it once again. Caution will be Pedrosa's watchword this weekend, trying to grab as many points as possible without risking another injury.

While all eyes will be on the Fantastic Four, there is plenty of interest for the fans directly behind them. Ben Spies has made a solid step forward this season since joining the factory Yamaha team, but the Texan blotted his copybook by crashing out of the Jerez race after just having snatched 2nd position from Dani Pedrosa. A more measured approach at Estoril may be necessary if Spies is to start to rack up points, and one which could see him rewarded with a podium.

Andrea Dovizioso will be one man standing in Spies' way, the Repsol Honda man with happy memories of his own podium here last season. Dovizioso's position in the team - the third wheel on the wagon, to coin a rather apt phrase - is becoming painfully clear, a position underlined by the news that his teammates Stoner and Pedrosa are to test the 1000cc Honda at Jerez after Le Mans, while he is not. Dovizioso's hope of redemption is to try to beat his teammates and score as many points as possible, but given the strength of his teammates that is a big ask. Dovizioso must attack whenever he can if he is not to be left looking at a satellite ride for 2012.

Estoril holds unhappy memories for Nicky Hayden, as the track where he was nearly robbed of the 2006 World Championship by his erstwhile teammate Dani Pedrosa. Even since then, Hayden has not had much luck at the circuit, with just a single pole position while never quite managing a podium. Hayden's visit in 2010 was the most successful on the Ducati, bagging 2nd on the grid, and with a little help from the rain, the Kentuckian may be hoping for a repeat of the podium he scored last time out.

The 2006 Estoril race was memorable for many things, one of the biggest being Toni Elias' victory here on the Fortuna Honda. Those days are long gone, though, and many things have changed. Elias may be back on a Honda with the LCR team, but now he is forced to use the spec Bridgestone tires that he has yet to make work for him, rather than the Saturday-night special Michelin race tires that the French company had constructed specially for Dani Pedrosa, but which Pedrosa had going spare. Elias' Calvary continues, his suffering magnified by returning to the track at which he once triumphed.

One question mark hanging over the race is whether Alvaro Bautista will be able to compete. The Rizla Suzuki rider broke his femur less than six weeks' ago, but Bautista was given the green light by his Spanish surgeon Dr Villamor to try to race in Estoril. Bautista faces two more hurdles ahead of the race, another examination by the circuit doctor on Thursday, and then seeing how he holds up during practice on Friday. If he passes those tests, then the Rizla rider will be back in the saddle in record time. If he does not, Suzuki's test rider Nobu Aoki is on hand to take on riding duties.

In the Moto2 class, battle is resumed between Speed Master's Andrea Iannone, Viessmann Kiefer's Stefan Bradl and Interwetten rider Thomas Luthi. Iannone has clearly had the upper and so far, the Italian looking close to unstoppable at Jerez, while Luthi has been steadily amassing podiums. So far, everything has been going Iannone's way, but doubts remain about the ability of the team to handle misfortune. During testing, the Speed Master garage resembled either a wedding or a funeral, depending on how the results had been going. So far, Iannone and the team have been in wedding mode, but the question is how long will the honeymoon last.

Luthi, on the other hand, has been the tortoise to Iannone's hare, and the ever sanguine Swiss rider has been the personification of the word "unflappable" all season. The switch from Moriwaki to Suter has done Luthi and the team no harm, and Luthi is very much the unsung hero of the Moto2 class.

One rider who will be looking for redemption in Estoril will be Technomag CIP's Kenan Sofuoglu. The Turkish rider made a devastating impact when he arrived in the class here last year, ending up 5th in his very first race on the bike. Since switching to Moto2 full time this season, Sofuoglu has struggled, suffering the same fate as many of the other front runners from last year. The Technomag rider has been battling chatter all season, the problem caused by the tires which Dunlop has brought to the track. A wet race may help Sofuoglu regain some confidence, and he could be the dark horse for this race.

The story of the 125cc class has been straightforward from the start, the class dominated by Nico Terol on the Bankia Aspar. Competition for Terol has come from Racing Team Germany's Sandro Cortese, and from 125 returnees Hector Faubel and Sergio Gadea. But Terol has been completely unfazed by his rivals, and has looked completely untouchable so far this year. There is no reason to expect this to change in Portugal.


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"Elias may be back on a Honda with the LCR team, but now he is forced to use the spec Bridgestone tires that he has yet to make work for him, rather than the Saturday-night special Michelin race tires that the French company had constructed specially for Dani Pedrosa, but which Pedrosa had going spare."

So the tires that Elias was using were intended for Dani? Given this information we can surmise that Dani was able to adjust to the Bridgestone's and Elias is still struggling.

How long will LCR holdout if Elias stays at the back of the grid? I like Toni, he's definitely a great rider, but the spec tire is showing who can (or in this case cannot) adapt their riding style. I would think that one of the key measures of a great rider is their ability to adapt to a different machine, and tires (tyres) for that matter.

I think harder questions need to be asked of one : Christophe Bourguignon. It takes a lot more than a rider to make a bike go round. I personally think there is a lot of complacency as far as engineering goes if getting heat in to the tires is the real issue. Probably has something to do with keeping an under appreciated rider for three years and finally doing something with him in his last year.

The official start of a GP weekend is now when David posts his preview! Great stuff.

Elias using Dani's extra tires makes sense, I always wondered how he was able to get special treatment being a satellite rider, he didn't! More props to Dani for making the BSs work while Elias struggles.

With the quality of the wet Jerez race you'd think Dorna would either steal Bernie Ecclestone's sprinkler idea or arrange more wet events!


Another great read David, keep up the good work. Poor Elias is showing that if he can't adapt he belongs in Moto2 permanently.

The 880s are showing that if u come from 990s and don't adapt like Marco33 and Elias24, u will b left behind.

Hope the advent of 1000s will allow more riders a more fluid style and not wheels in line all the time.

Sorry but I think you're off the mark. Elias specifically has struggled to get heat into the tyres since the control tyres were introduced, which even featherweight Dani has managed to do. It is clear just from watching that Elias's style differs fairly dramatically from most of the others and he needs to adapt. His hang-right-off-it style looks groovy but it prevents him from loading the rear tyre and getting to WOT as quick as the others, thus preventing him heating the tyre which reduces his traction anyway. We've seen certain riders get repeatedly sideways at some circuits, its not as though the ability to drift has disappeared at all.

I nominate one V Rossi. As David's article mentions Rossi & Burgess seem to be pinpointing understeer as their biggest issue (although it is patently obvious the patented Ducati folding front still exists as well).

Rossi has really smoothed out in his 800 Yamaha years, as the class and tyres have dictated to a large degree, returning to those flowing 250 type arcing lines.

I note that Stoner is very 'body english' on both the Duke and also now the RCV. Stoner aggressively picks the bike up onto the fat of the tyre to drive off corners (Pedrosa is also a master of this).

Rossi has stated the Desmosedici needs more of a 500 style input yet I don't see that he is achieving that to date in the manner he's riding. Shoulder? Perhaps, although that argument is wearing a little thin. He needs to grab that GP11 by the scruff of the neck more in my opinion.

you load the rear tires by accelerating, not braking, thats the front tire :)

& these guys are not drifting, they are sliding :) You very rarely will ever see a motorcycle 'drift'. That would require someone to almost high side, catch it, burn the tire out and cock the front wheel hard over ala counter steering. The axis of the bike would have to be well past what you typically see, you would also have to drive off the wheel as it was spinning (by modulating the throttle) as well. In all the youtube vids I have only seen people like McCoy power slide and then bring the rear out a little bit more, but never truly drift a corner. Its probably happened though.

When i mentioned fluid style i meant more flexibility in riding sometimes with the wheels inline and sometimes sideways.

Even Rossi admitted that the Ducati could b ridden like an old 500 but it would cost him in tyre wear, stress on shoulder and with rear tyre spinning fuel consumption not to mention laps r not as fast.

Desh kindly name some of these riders who are repeatedly sideways and setting some of the fastest lap times except Stoner and that was on the same.......... Duc.

Good write up David, luckily there has been some good motorsport on over the last month, as the enforced off has been too long.

I have a sneaky bet on Rossi for the next two, last time out was his first in the wet and he had v good pace. Nicky had a good race here last year and if the forecast for Estoril holds and Lemans is it's usual self we could have two wetish races... Starting on the front two rows would see him disappear before the Honda and Yam tyres come into their own, in theory of course.. long odds but best returns..
Here's hoping Ducati get good weather for the test and all goes well, I want to see them fighting at the front every week with Honda and Yam, not just the odd race...
Rossi should try to emulate Caseys style on the duke?? A team aiming to win the championship could do better than try to emulate a team that has finished 4th the last two seasons. ..
If anything Casey being such a brilliant rider yet unable to mount anything like a serious assault(over a 2 years period) on the championship gives a better yardstick for the work to be done at Ducati than anything else.
Looking forward to seeing how Simo and Spies react to the last race disappointment...
Good luck all competitors this weekend!!

ps I have found myself poring over this comment hoping I don't offend anyone too badly even though I believe being a fan of a rider/factory etc is very healthy for the sport.. hard times as a fan..:-)

Nice preview as always.

Hope we will see some good racing again this weekend.

Can’t wait too see how Dani´s shoulder is going to react. Hope he will be fine and that the problems are in the past.

Also hope Marquez can get some good points after 2 disappointing races.

Role on race day!!!!!

It looks now as if the weather is going to be wet on Friday, small chance on Saturday and perfect on Sunday.

I hope we see a good race again Sunday and that my man Spies finally puts it all together for a win or at least a podium.

I love this sport!

The weather of course is looking miserable. It would actually be great to see all practises and qualifying in the wet and a gloriously dry Sunday. Thats not likely and certainly will not be welcomed by the riders,but for us that will be sitting on the couch it will be as intrigueing and entertaining as the Jerez round,if only to see who had the best plan for the race. I dearly hope that whichever way the weather pans out,none of the key players take a tumble or get skittled out by the oppotunism of another. That does not imply that if the less fancied have a mishap its okay. I always wish them a safe weekend from the lowliest to the highest ranked.
Two riders that I am really hoping have stellar races are Ben Spies and Marc Marquez. Its been a miserable start for them and I hope it comes together points wise at least on Sunday.
After Jerez,its only fair to wish Casey some healthy points compensation this weekend. The gap to George needs to closed and closed fast, and that is going to be tough ask for anyone this weekend come hell or high water.

Is Stoner now sponsored by Red Bull? He was wearing a redbull hat in the conference

Just reading through this I noticed your later post..

You can load either the front or reat tire mate, you load the front by braking..

And yes, they are 'drifting' as apposed to 'sliding' at some circuits. See if you can find some footage of Stoner through turn 3 at the Island. He has the rear smoking and uses opposite lock to get the bike to hold the line he wants, just like the cars do :).