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.TESTING TIMES
Finally! After an off-season full of speculation and expectation, the MotoGP teams are finally back on track this week for three-days of testing at Sepang. I can hardly wait. We've all been starved of any real information over the past few months so it will be great to see the new bikes turn their wheels in anger for the first time in 2011. Once again, all eyes will be on Ducati and Valentino. Now, if Vale manages to finish the test in just 15th spot like he did in Valencia, I'll be concerned. But I don't think that's going to happen. I expect him to be at least as quick as Hayden during this outing, though he still won't be setting the world on fire.It's early in the season and Rossi is never the fastest rider at this stage of the year. He tends to play the lame duck and diverts attention to other riders. It's a clever approach. If I were him, I'd be doing the same thing. In regards to his shoulder, it's a little difficult to know where the truth actually lies. Vale's said it won't be 100-percent until May, but I think he's probably foxing a little here and I think he'll definitely be competitive when it counts. The shoulder is probably still quite sore and will probably continue to cause discomfort for a little while yet, but that's the price he'll have to pay for opting to have the surgery so late. Then again, that's just part of racing. However, even if he's not in his best physical shape this week, it shouldn't get in the way of the team making some significant advances with the bike.And talking about the bike, I note that Ducati's test riders recently claimed to have come up with some major solutions to the bike's inherent problems. I'm sceptical about whether this is the case. I'm sure they've been working in a better direction since Valentino provided initial feedback last November, but I doubt whether the test riders will have been able to tell whether it's right or wrong. Remember, these are the same guys who thought they had it all sorted with the last few versions of the bike. Look what happened there. The only person who will really be able to tell if there's been any improvement will be Valentino himself. Until he gets on it, it's all hope and prayer stuff. We'll soon know.One thing I certainly expect to see this week is for Stoner to be a handful right out of the gate. In fact, I'll be surprised if he doesn't finish the test at the top of the time sheets. From the Honda perspective, the team infighting is about to start in earnest. They've been working off information supplied by Pedrosa and Dovizioso for a long time now, and it'll be interesting to see if Stoner begins to hold sway in terms of future direction. Honda can't work in two directions at once, so I think we'll soon know which of their star riders they're going to listen to. Expect some noses to be put severely out of joint with this one, no matter what the outcome. One thing Honda does need to do is improve the bike's stability under braking. It's possible they may have managed to improve this aspect over the off-season, but other than that, I don't expect them to have made any huge changes since last year.
MORE WORK TO DO
Last week I suggested that BMW might well provide the surprise package of the 2011 World Superbike Championship, but after receiving a phone call from their star recruit Leon Haslam on the weekend I'm now not so sure. Leon's currently in Australia where he and the factory BMW team have just wrapped up a series of pre-season tests at Sydney's Eastern Creek. When I asked him about the bike he was a little bit cautious, but he did say they still had a lot of work to do. When I rode the bike over a year ago I felt it had no mid-range power, meaning it really struggled to get off the corners. However, it did steer very well. Leon agreed that the power issue still needs attention, and also agreed with my assessment regarding the steering. I was quite surprised to hear this. I know BMW have been working on this bike for a couple of years, but it doesn't seem to have progressed at the rate I imagined BMW to be capable of. I don't understand the internal characteristics of the engine, so I can't comment on the specifics of why this might be. But regardless, it's still alarming to learn that they still have such a fundamental power supply issue.It's interesting that Troy Corser has been saying for some time how great the bike is and that it's ready to win. But what I don't understand is how it can sometimes be right up there in qualifying, but then can't seem to replicate the performance in a race environment. I don't doubt BMW's ability to get to the bottom of it. I'm now just not sure when they'll manage it. Regardless, I'm sure Leon will still perform well on the bike and will make the most of what he gets. He and his dad Ron are staying with Troy Corser in Wollongong this week and will then go down to Phillip Island for the last test before the season gets underway. I'm really looking forward to catching up with both of them sometime this week.