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.HANDS OFF THE ISLAND
I'm a little surprised by the news that Dorna are pressuring the organizers of the Australian MotoGP to re-schedule next year's race for earlier in the season. It seems a lot of the top riders, including Valentino Rossi, are leading the push for the change due to the highly adverse weather conditions that can affect the Phillip Island circuit in October. The word is that unless organizers bring the race forward to next March, the track will not be homologated and the famous Grand Prix, I reckon by far the best in the world, will cease to exist altogether.This is a big call by Dorna. I think it's a bit foolish for them to take such a harsh stance and I think their use of forceful language is very disappointing. From an organizational perspective, I find it highly unlikely that the date will be changed at such a late stage. It's virtually impossible and totally unrealistic of Dorna to even request it. Maybe it's something to consider in the future, but for now, I think it would be a mistake to change it. In fact, it would be a total waste of time. Can I tell you, moving the race to March will provide no guarantee of getting a better deal from the weather gods. I remember going down there in March for the World Superbikes some years ago and it rained so hard that the second race had to be cancelled due to the massive amount of water sitting on the track. This is just the reality of Phillip Island. It doesn't matter when you go there. The chance of bad weather will always be present. The very edge of Bass Strait is the greatest location in the world to have a racetrack, but the price you pay is its susceptibility to dramatic conditions - bitter cold, strong winds and buckets of rain. Despite the on-going drama, I don't think race enthusiasts should be too concerned. Even if MotoGP organisers stick to their guns and refuse to budge, I find it very hard to believe that Dorna will cancel the race. It just won't happen. You know what? All the riders love racing at Phillip Island. It's one of the most enjoyable racetracks to ride on. I really don't think they will cut off their nose to spite their face.
Expect the biggest surprise package of this year's World Superbike Championship to come from BMW. Think about it: We pretty much know what everyone else will be bringing to the table, but we clearly don't understand the potential of the German machine. With this in mind, I can see Leon Haslam shaping up as perhaps the strongest contender for the 2011 crown. Watch out for him. The BMW will be a far better proposition than the Suzuki he was forced to put up with last year, and he'll be starting the year with a strong belief that he can win. I really hope Leon does it. I'm a great friend of his dad, and the UK has always been like a second home to me thanks to all the support I received during the early days of my racing career. At the very least, I expect Leon to totally blow away his teammate Troy Corser, who's going to be under big pressure to perform this year. Troy's definitely getting towards the end of his career. In fact, 2011 is surely his last throw of the dice. He's getting a bit long in the tooth for this game and needs to hang the leathers up. New BMW recruit James Toseland might even pressure him. James is a good rider, but he's inconsistent and clearly wasn't up to the challenge of riding the Yamaha last year. It's a hard bike to handle, and I think the easier-to-manage BMW will see his results improve. He'll have the odd race where he's very fast.Of the other major championship hopefuls, Max Biaggi and Aprilia will obviously be hard to beat. Actually, if I were Aprilia, I would have done everything possible to try and get Marco Melandri on that bike as well. It would really suit his style and I'm pretty sure he could have beaten Biaggi and even won the championship. As it stands, I think the Yamaha will provide him with some serious challenges. Anyway, I expect Johnny Rea to be the final piece of the puzzle - if he can get his consistency together. I was a bit disappointed in his results last year and I know he can do better. I'm hoping that having an extra 12-months of experience behind him will do the trick.
DIFFICULT TIMES AHEAD
Over at Kawasaki, I really fear for the future of Chris Vermeulen. The team have got a new bike this year, but Chris hasn't spent much time on it thanks to the serious knee injury he sustained at Phillip Island nearly a year ago. Whatever way you cut it, it's going to be very hard for him to come back now. I think he's had too much time away, and by all accounts he's still not fully recovered. I don't hold out much hope for him this year unfortunately. I really wish he could get better and get on a good bike. But the reality is that if he doesn't start getting some decent momentum and scoring some good results in the next 12 months, then I really don't see much more of a future for him. It's disappointing, but that's what can happen when you go to a team where the bike isn't so good. I wish him all the best.