2012 Aragon MotoGP Preview: It Ain't Over Till It's Over
So MotoGP heads back to Spain for the third time this year, rolling into the Motorland Aragon circuit as the series enters its final stretch. Despite there being still five races left to go, the three different classes all look pretty much settled, after the races at Misano. Jorge Lorenzo benefited from Dani Pedrosa's misfortune at Misano to lead the MotoGP race by 38 points, Marc Marquez beat Pol Espargaro to the line in a do-or-die move in Moto2 to extend his lead to 53 points, and Sandro Cortese rode a brilliant race in Moto3 to enlarge his lead to 46 points. In reality, only misfortune or gross rider error stands in between titles for the three men, and in his studio in Barcelona, Marc Garcia is starting to pencil in the names on the trophy.
That doesn't mean there is no interest left in the series, however. If you had been thinking of skipping the Moto2 races for the rest of the year, then you haven't been paying attention; the life-and-death racing between Pol Espargaro and Marc Marquez, the result of the fiercest and most bitterly contested rivalry in Grand Prix at the moment, continues to be breathtaking. Moto3 is seeing the rise of a generation who will sound in the end of Spanish domination in MotoGP, though many fast and promising Spanish youngsters remain.
Even in MotoGP there is plenty still worth watching. Though Hector Barbera put an end to Dani Pedrosa's title chances at Misano - helped in no small part by the chaos which ensued on the grid after the first attempt to start the race was aborted due to Karel Abraham's clutch problems at the start - the incident will only serve to motivate Pedrosa more than ever. Pedrosa's only chance is to win as many of the remaining races as possible, and hope for fate to give him a helping hand by robbing Jorge Lorenzo of more points.
The circuits that remain offer a promising battleground for Pedrosa's campaign. Aragon, Motegi, Phillip Island and, to a lesser extent, Valencia all appear to favor the Honda, while the contest with Yamaha is more balanced at Sepang. Pedrosa arrives at Aragon after testing at the circuit some four weeks ago. He left there the fastest man, by a comfortable margin, the Repsol Honda rider leading factory Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo by a quarter of a second. Those two extra days of testing will be invaluable: Honda have some usable data to help them minimize the chatter the bike still suffers right from the start of the weekend at Aragon. With wet weather expected on both Friday and Saturday, to be followed by a dry race day, that could prove an enormous advantage.
Pedrosa faces a formidable rival, though, in the shape of Jorge Lorenzo. The 2010 World Champion is riding better than he ever has, his smooth, sweeping, flawless style perfectly matched to the agile Yamaha. The measure of just how strong Lorenzo is this year is reflected in his results: the Factory Yamaha man has finished in either 1st or 2nd position in every race this season, barring Assen where he was taken out in the first corner by Alvaro Bautista. All he needs to do is keep that up to the end of the year and he will be champion, probably with at least one race to spare.
The question is whether Lorenzo's ambition will allow him to settle for second. The return of Valentino Rossi to Yamaha next season will be starting to weigh on his mind, and though having the number 1 plate on his M1 will be a clear signal to his new teammate and rival, going into the 2013 season with a few more wins will help stake out the territory even more clearly. Lorenzo wants to win, and as he demonstrated at Brno, he is prepared to push to the limit and risk everything in the attempt.
While the uphill sections and fast back straight favor the Honda RC213V's superior horsepower, the circuit also has a number of sections offering chances to exploit the nimbleness of the Yamaha. The two long left-hand sweepers are places where the corner speed of the Yamaha works to its advantage. The results of the test here may not be as decisive as might be expected. With a bit of luck, the fans will be treated to another well-balanced race, with Pedrosa and Lorenzo battling it out to the line.
While both Honda and Yamaha tested here at Aragon back in September, Ducati arrive at the circuit at a disadvantage. The weekend will be a real test of the apparent progress made in Misano two weeks ago: Valentino Rossi's podium and Nicky Hayden's very positive reports from the test on the Monday after the race suggest that Ducati is starting to make some real progress with the Desmosedici. The understeer that has plagued the Ducati is still there, but it is reduced enough that the bike is now much easier to turn, and the rear is starting to provide grip without shredding the tire.
Though Rossi's podium was a welcome boost to Ducati, just how real a sign was it of progress? Ducati tested at Misano two weeks before MotoGP arrived, and benefited from the rain on the first two days, which left no one else with any set up data. Ducati arrive at Aragon in the opposite situation: they are the only factory which did not test at the Spanish track, and face two days of difficult conditions ahead of a sunny race day. If the bike is genuinely improved, both Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi will be up to speed quicker and be more competitive than they have been in the past. If the improvement at Misano was illusory, the result solely of benefiting from the conditions, Aragon will expose that quickly and mercilessly.
There will be plenty more to talk of at the Spanish circuit. Can Ben Spies have another weekend without freakish bad luck, and if he does, how will he perform? Will Fausto Gresini get any closer to making a decision as to who will ride his Honda RC213V in 2013? Will it be Alvaro Bautista, or will Scott Redding get the nod? And which of the two Tech 3 riders will come out on top? Andrea Dovizioso has dominated the early part of the season, but Cal Crutchlow's first podium has given him the extra confidence boost he needed to take on and beat his teammate. A Tech 3 rider on the podium is looking like an ever safer bet. But which Tech 3 rider will it be?
The Motorland Aragon circuit - a stunning track set in a beautiful location - will see all these questions answered, and yet more questions raised. It should be a fascinating weekend of racing; the title races may already be largely run, but there is still plenty worth watching.