Former 500cc World Champion Wayne Gardner will be offering his GP insights on a regular basis to cyclenews.com readers... and we're happy to have him. For more from the Wollongong Wonder, visit his website at www.waynegardnerapproved.com.au.PREVIEW OF COMING ATTRACTIONS (PART 2)
With now less than a week to go until the first race of the 2011 MotoGP season, there's just enough time to complete my assessment of this year's championship hopefuls. Personally, I just can't wait for all the action to start.
As much as it pains me to say it, Valentino will not be winning another World Championship any time soon. While still clearly one of the top three racers in the world, the Ducati is just too far off the pace to enable him to be a threat this year. At best, he may manage to scrap it out for a win or two during the back half of the season. Until then, I think he will struggle in a way that he's never struggled before. It'll be a new experience for the Italian legend and he certainly won't enjoy it.
While Hector slightly exceeded my expectations last year, he'll struggle to make much of an impression this year. While lacking that last crucial few percent that separates the good riders from the great ones, he'll also struggle thanks to the fact he's again riding a Ducati. If he manages to stay on for most of the year and score some consistent 11ths or 12ths, I would class his season as about the best he could have hoped for.
What is Loris still doing in MotoGP? Does he need the money? Is he bored? Can he think of no other decent hobbies to occupy his time? While an amazing rider in his prime, he maybe needs to consider a switch to world supers. As for his chances this year, well, they're not great. The combination of having to contend with a sub-par satellite Ducati as well as riders who are younger, faster and more aggressive will ensure he'll struggle to crack the top 10 on most days.
Randy De Puniet
I've never really rated Randy, mostly because he's never actually done anything. Still, his aggressive style aboard the Honda last year certainly provided some spectacular viewing and it was great to see. This year, I reckon there's a chance that his forceful style will see him get some okay results out of the Ducati - a bike that seems to demand a fearless riding approach. In fact, he could be one of the factory's best performers.
If Casey manages to stay on all year, he will be the 2011 MotoGP World Champion - it's as simple as that. When it comes to pure speed, no one else on the current grid really comes close. The big question is: can he stay on all year? I'm not sure. While the poorly balanced Ducati certainly didn't make life easy for him in the past, the Honda is a much more reliable proposition and will certainly provide him with the stable platform he needs to win. He just needs to keep it upright.
Expect the usual from Colin - the occasional fast laps in qualifying followed by bad starts and race results somewhere between 5th and 10th. There's nothing more to say, really. On the upside, I expect him to be far and away the Tech 3 team's best performer. He will outpace his new teammate Cal Crutchlow by such a large margin that it will be embarrassing. Colin's last year? Who knows?
I said last year that Hiroshi was a rider built in the mould of a typical Japanese racer, and nothing much has changed. He's fast, but not really fast enough to challenge for race wins. Expect him to have a reasonably solid season with some reasonably solid performances when things go his way. Don't be surprised to see him locked in some entertaining on-track battles with fellow Honda riders Simoncelli and Dovizioso.
I can already declare Toni's 2011 season a complete disaster before a race has even been run. For some reason, the 2010 Moto2 Champion has so far been completely unable to adapt back to a MotoGP bike. Quite frankly, I've been stunned at how far off the pace he's been in the pre-season. Things will not improve and he can look forward to a year of battling for last place. I'm already disappointed.
For starters, this guy shouldn't even be in MotoGP. He's done virtually nothing during his years in the smaller classes and why he thinks he can do something in the premier class is beyond me. Making things even worse is that he's riding arguably the worst bike on the grid. Yes, he's done better than many expected during pre-season testing - he's been faster than Elias - but the actual racing will be another matter entirely. Finishing the season with all bones intact should be his number one goal.