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
With the start of the 2011 MotoGP season now less than two weeks away, I reckon it's a perfect time to dust off the crystal ball and have a go at predicting the fortunes of this year's protagonists. Super-keen Weekly Review readers might like to take notes and remind me of how wrong I was at the end of the year. Then again, maybe I'll manage to hit the nail right on the head. Only time will tell.
I strongly suspect that Jorge is the guy who will once again walk away with the MotoGP championship. He's blindingly fast, super consistent, and now has the type of confidence that only winning a world title can instil. While a lot of people seem to think he'll struggle without Valentino Rossi to guide the Yamaha M1's development, I personally don't think this will be a major factor in 2011. Indeed, his early test form indicates that he'll be an even stronger force over coming months.
Dani has amazing talent. Dani is extremely fast. On his day, Dani is impossible to beat. Dani will not win the 2011 MotoGP championship. I just can't see it happening. For some reason he's always had major issues with putting a consistent season together and this year will, unfortunately, be no exception. The arrival of Casey Stoner at Honda will certainly spur him on to some amazing lap times and resounding victories here and there, but, as usual, it won't be enough.
I don't think we can read too much into Dovi's impressive early season form. While it's clear he can potentially cut it with the best of them, I just can't see him vying for top-three finishes when the actual racing starts. Don't get me wrong: I think he's a very good rider. But, try as he might, he's just not in the same class as guys like Pedrosa, Lorenzo, Stoner and Rossi. He will need a few of these top guys to have very bad weekends in order for him to score podium finishes.
Spies represents the great unknown for 2011. Of all the top runners he's the rider with the greatest amount of improvement still to come. His pre-season test pace indicates he can definitely be right up there with the top three, while the benefit of a full factory Yamaha will also give him an extra edge that he perhaps lacked last year. While I don't think he can win the championship this year, I think he will certainly win a few races and provide a real problem for the other main contenders - including his teammate Lorenzo.
I've been super-impressed by Alvaro's pre-season form aboard the struggling Suzuki. So far he's finished well ahead of guys who really should be going faster. The question is: can he do it when it counts? My feeling is that he can. He seems to have a drive and determination that most Suzuki riders have lacked in recent years and is definitely a rider with significant potential. If all goes well, he could be a possibility for an overall 10th place finish or better.
Don't expect anything special from the 2006 champ. A good rider at best, he will struggle to find any decent form on a Ducati that so far appears to be light years away from anything resembling a good bike. Of course, that won't stop him from putting in his usual 100-percent effort as he tries to help sort the red machine into something half-competitive. But, as in the past, it's an approach that won't really yield anything too spectacular. In fact, this season could be his last in the big class if the results don't improve.
After Spies, Simoncelli is the rider whose progress I'm most looking forward to following in 2011. The Honda rider was impressive in the second half of last year and this year has the benefit of some valuable factory support. He's fast, aggressive and ambitious, and while I don't think he's quite ready to be a full-blown championship contender, I think he will provide the occasional nasty surprise for the more fancied runners. If nothing else, he will be extremely entertaining to watch.
Cal will struggle badly this year. While he did okay in superbikes, he's quickly finding out that MotoGP is a different kettle of fish altogether. My personal feeling is that he has talent, but has made the leap into the big pond too early. Having said that, he's going to have to deal with it. I think he will make steady improvements all year, but will also have a few crashes and struggle to break away from the rear end of the pack during races.