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 COUNTDOWN
MotoGP returns to Spain this weekend and that means two things: excitement and drama. As always, local heroes Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Barbera and Bautista will have the benefit of that massive hometown advantage and you can definitely count on them to put on a good show. But will it be enough to catch Stoner? Hmmm, I don't think so.
I was talking to Randy Mamola last week and he was saying that Honda have made another technical leap since the Portugal test back in May. It seems to relate to the electronics package around their new gearbox, which already allows their riders to make seamless gear transitions. The talk in the paddock is that the constant drive made possible by the breakthrough is worth half-a-second a lap. Now it appears they've improved the software that controls it. That's why the Hondas were so dominant last time out at Le Mans.
Sadly for the rest of the field, it'll be more of the same this week. I know Yamaha are trying very hard to help Lorenzo, but I think they'll continue to struggle when it comes to matching the Hondas. Of course, you can never say never where Lorenzo is concerned, especially at a place like Catalunya. Of the other main contenders, Valentino may go okay, but he won't be in the top three like last time. Quite simply, I think Ducati still aren't reacting fast enough and are still trying to identify exactly what their problems are. Dani, if he races at all, will struggle with his broken collarbone and his edge will definitely be missing. If it were me, I'd certainly be taking things a bit easier.
This leaves Marco Simoncelli, who could possibly provide the big surprise of the weekend. But first it seems he'll have to endure a visit to the Race Director's office for further discussions about his over-enthusiastic riding style. Personally, I reckon it's a bit weak calling him in three-weeks after the Pedrosa incident, especially since he's already served his penalty. But unfortunately he's the fall guy at the moment. All this talk about safe racing is great, but standards need to be applied fairly to everyone. Up until now, this certainly hasn't been the case and Race Direction needs to take the blame for the inconsistency. I just hope all the flak doesn't dull Simoncelli's edge. If he settles down just a fraction and thinks before he acts, he can definitely get a podium on Sunday.
Closer to home, Remy and Luca can't wait to watch the race on TV. Remy's next race is at Catalunya next month, so it'll be a great chance for him to learn the track layout and see what type of lines everyone is using. Talk about fun homework.
CHECA STILL IN CHARGE
It's now pretty clear that the 2011 World Superbike Championship is Carlos Checa's to lose. Pretty amazing, all things considered. He's head and shoulders above everyone this year. I've just watched the Salt Lake City round (brilliant mountain backdrop - shame about the ordinary track) and it's probably the best I've seen him ride since his early GP years. In contrast, the rest of the field were struggling and looking rather ordinary.
In fact, I really can't see any depth of talent in the field at this point in time and that really baffles me. I love motorcycle racing, but the whole championship is definitely lacking quality these days. There have been times in the past where the action dished up by World Supers was on par with the excitement we'd get from MotoGP. That's certainly not the case these days and more often than not it looks like a pretty second-rate show. It's a bit mystifying, especially considering the investment of companies like Aprilia, Yamaha, BMW and Honda.
During this latest round I was paying particular attention to the BMWs and they seem to be going backwards. Based on their pre-season tests I thought they'd be strong contenders. Instead, they seem to have lost their way and are lacking any real forward motion. Leon Haslam was almost world champion last year on a Suzuki, but that must seem like a distant memory as he struggles to whip the Beemer into shape. And Honda? I'm very surprised - the CBR is normally a very good overall bike. I can't explain why it's so far down the field and struggling to get a result. Is it the bike, the riders? Again, I just can't put my finger on it. I wish it all gave me something to be excited about. But sadly, it doesn't.