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.CATALUNYA WRAP-UP
The latest Spanish MotoGP certainly wasn't the most exciting race of all time, but there were some intriguing technical match-ups taking place within the field that kept me interested. Take Yamaha versus Honda. Once again, Jorge Lorenzo tried extremely hard, but the Yamaha's deficiencies in acceleration compared to the Honda were plain to see. Casey Stoner was also just too good, and the fact his bike is an absolute rocket ship in a straight line ensured he was untouchable.
The pair's tire choices also told us a lot about where their respective teams are at. The fact that Casey and the other Honda riders had to use a hard rear while everyone else could get away with using a soft rear tells me that the Honda is still not looking after its tires as well as the Yamaha - or even the Ducati, for that matter. This may be a telling factor at other tracks (see Silverstone preview below). As things currently stand, Lorenzo's in a spot of bother - despite the fact he still leads the championship. He really needs Yamaha to at least come up with some slight engine improvements very soon.
The other interesting thing for me was the performance of Rossi's Ducati. I think it's fair to say that the bike's improved a little bit. He was still seven-and-a-half-seconds down on the leader at the end, but at least it wasn't 20 seconds, which was the gap he was contending with a few races back. Ducati are running a heavier crankshaft and that appears to be making the bike more rideable and easier to turn, but I still think we'll have to wait until the last four or five races for it to be battling for the podium.
By far the biggest disappointment of the race was Marco Simoncelli. After such an exciting build-up, he just didn't have the ability to live up to his qualifying pace. I'm not really sure why. Yes, he seemed to bog down on the start line, but even after recovering he just didn't look like the Marco we've come to expect this year. I know that Catalunya is prone to changeable track temperatures that can sometimes upset riders, so maybe that had something to do with it. Still, at least he finished, got some points, and didn't take anybody out.
THE BEST OF BRITISH
Someone reminded me the other day that I was the last person to ever win a 500cc Grand Prix at Silverstone. That was back in 1986 and I remember it was bucketing down rain and really cold - typical English weather - and that my hands just about froze off. After an old-fashioned GP push start (remember those?), I hit the front very early and was able to pull away from the entire field, eventually winning by a fair margin. My old mate Didier de Radigues was second on a three-cylinder Honda, followed by Eddie Lawson on a Marlboro Yamaha. It's a good memory. I was riding an early generation NSR500 back then and we certainly didn't have any traction control or on-board computers at our disposal. I remember the fast corner coming onto the main straight was really slippery and that the bike kept wheel-spinning and kicking sideways. The old two-strokes were definitely hard bikes to ride - especially in the rain. Since that race Silverstone has been modified somewhat, although thankfully around three-quarters of it remains much the same. It's a place I really love.
All of which brings us to this weekend's British MotoGP round. On paper it looks like a Honda circuit - flat and mostly fast. However, the Yamahas have always been really good in long, fast corners, and they still sit better on the road and look after their tires a bit better than the Hondas. If they can just improve their pace a fraction (I understand that Yamaha will be bringing some engine upgrades for this round), then the race between Lorenzo and Stoner could be much closer.
Apart from the action between the championship front-runners, one rider I'll be watching with particular interest is Cal Crutchlow. He knows the track very well and has a history of going well there, so I'm hoping he can score an exceptional result. I know that in the recent past I've been a bit of a Cal sceptic, but he's really surprised and impressed me so far this year. He's definitely a rider who belongs on the MotoGP grid.