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.KING CASEY
What an awesome performance. Casey Stoner's amazing ride in treacherous conditions at Phillip Island on the weekend not only cemented his second MotoGP World Championship, but also confirmed his status as the greatest racer of the 800cc era. He was simply untouchable all weekend, with the super fast and flowing nature of the track really enabling him to demonstrate vast superiority over the rest of the field when it came to drifting the bike through the Island's super-fast turns. Based on that display, it's hard to see any of the other riders, even the Honda-mounted ones like Simoncelli and Pedrosa, making any ground on him next year. He is simply a class above, just as I predicted he would be at the start of this year.
I was talking to one of the HRC bosses after the race and he was wondering what it was about Australian riders that enabled them to be so fast - guys like myself, Doohan, and now Casey. I told him it was all down to our dirt track backgrounds. There's simply no better way to teach a rider to be comfortable with a bike moving about underneath them. I think that while Casey continues to race, very few will ever manage to beat him. I reckon all this means that Dani Pedrosa's days at Repsol Honda are numbered, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him replaced by Marc Marquez for 2013 - not that I think the young Spaniard will initially do as well as many believe. More on that next week.
But back to the race. Apart from the excitement of the actual result, the event really suffered from the absence of out-going champion Jorge Lorenzo, who is the only guy in the world who can give Casey a run for his money at the moment. His practice spill was an especially nasty one, though I have to say I've never seen a rider suffer a finger injury quite like his. It's not the way Casey would have liked to win the championship, but sometimes that's just how it goes. Opting for immediate surgery was definitely the smartest option for Jorge and you can bet he'll be back better than ever. For the rest of the field, limited as it was after a string of practice crashes reduced the number of starters, it was a fairly dismal showing.
After seeming to find a way forward at Motegi, it's again clear that Ducati still have no idea. I tried to catch up with Valentino Rossi a few times over the weekend, but he was always in meetings with engineers and sponsors. I think the problems in that team run deeper than most realize. After nearly a full season, they are no better off than they were at the start of the year. I even saw Jerry Burgess make a comment on TV about the nature of the input he was getting from Vale. It was a surprising thing for him to say. Maybe he was referring to Valentino's actual motivation, which surely must be at rock bottom by now. To make matters worse, I don't see any prospect for improvement in the team's fortune's next year, either. It's really quite unbelievable.
The big thing I really picked up on during my catch-up with everyone in the GP paddock was all the confusion and concern over next year's CRT rules. I must admit, the regulations as they've been put forward so far appear quite confusing to me as well. What I can say is that there is one manufacturer in particular that's very displeased with the new rules and is putting up some stiff opposition to Dorna. I really hope that Dorna hold their ground. Sadly, it's fair to say that MotoGP is in the sorry state it's in thanks largely to the factories, which have always dictated what types of machines that will be raced.
In reality, it's the factories that instigated the move to four-strokes, massively increasing the costs for everybody involved. And it's the factories that are imposing massive leasing prices on satellite teams, which is a major factor in declining grid numbers. As a result, MotoGP is now unaffordable for just about everyone. The problem is that for many years, it's been engineers, not marketing people, making all the key decisions. Engineers don't care if racing is entertaining or not. They don't care if it's boring, or if no one tunes in to watch on TV. They just want to develop their technology and win races.
Dorna have said CRT is the future of the sport and, although I'm not quite sure how it will all play out, I think I have to agree. If it means reducing the power of the manufacturers in the process, so be it. MotoGP needs an idea that will put more affordable bikes on the grid and improve the entertainment value of the package. Just look at the race on Sunday. Only 10 bikes finished. Why would any sponsor or potential new fan get excited about that?
As things start to readjust, I also wonder if we'll see a return to the type of 500cc GP fields we saw in the early to mid-80s. Back then, the majority of the bikes on the grid were privateer Hondas or Suzukis, with only a handful of actual works bikes. In fact, in 1985 Honda only fielded one NSR500 for Freddie Spender, while Yamaha fielded just two factory YZRs for Eddie Lawson and Raymond Roche. The rest of us got by largely on things like Honda triples. Could we be heading for an era where the majority of the bikes are CRT, production-based machines, with only a smattering of true prototype racers built by the factories? Only time will tell. In the meantime, expect things to get a lot more heated between now and the start of next season.