Cycle News - Archive Issues - 2000's

Cycle News 2005 01 12

Cycle News is a weekly magazine that covers all aspects of motorcycling including Supercross, Motocross and MotoGP as well as new motorcycles

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By MICHAEL IN "HE PADDOCK Scon Predictions aplenty otoGP had a boom in 2004, and the World Championship goes into 200S looking good. Beneath the surface, though, things are not so certain. Two manufacturers - Aprilia and Proton - are doubtful participants. Team d'Antin is also up in the air. The Suzuki factory team is still unable to secure meaningful sponsorship. And all the teams are hostage to the tire companies. It makes for a precarious feeling, but then racing is supposed to be precarious. Uncertainty adds to the excitement. What is more worrying is predictability. And 200S is nothing if not predictable. At this time of year, especially with the ban on testing, everything should still be possible: all the riders potential winners, all the machines in a position to make a great leap forward - though we must make allowances for the Blata V-six to have the odd spot of teething troubles. It's a dream world, of course. In truth, there are seldom real surprises in racing. Last year was a rare exception; it was genuinely difficult to predict the winner. And then Valentino Rossi went and won it anyway. In 2005, he will win it again. Only misfortune can stop him. Rossi has escaped injury in nine years of Grand Prix racing, so he seems more than just unusually blessed. Incredibly lucky is more like it. Long may it last. Nobody would wish that he would lose the title by getting hurt (except, secretly, all the other riders, of course). Mechanically, it's hard to imagine what Honda can build that will be good enough to stop Valentino. The Honda was already better than the Yamaha last year, demonstrably so in terms of top speed and acceleration. But with the riders they had, it still wasn't good enough. The Honda will get better for 2005, because in recent years that is what Hondas have tended to do - though it's always possible for them to get it wrong. Either way, be assured that Yamaha will improve the M I as well, perhaps to the extent that some of their other riders will be able to challenge the Hondas. But, as Valentino so eloquently demonstrated last year, the rider is more important than the motorcycle. And we have to look at his defeated rivals and wonder if there is one who might stand a chance against the great motorcycle racing genius. Given the time of year, let's do a bit of pretending, if need be. With rose-tinted glasses in place, maybe surprises are possible after all. Last year, many critics tipped Colin M Edwards for the title. Turned out he got the worst of the Hondas and didn't care to stick his neck out, except on rare occasions when he did get his bike working reasonably well. This year, he's on the same machinery as Rossi - his teammate, no less. And he's 31 years old for the first race. There aren't that many chances left, and there's plenty to prove. Go, Colin. You're the guy. Again. If things don't go well for this smoothest of riders, on the other hand, he might find his hands full with another Yamaha rookie - Ruben Xaus. He preserved his reputation for crashing but also showed surprising strength in a first MotoGP season on a year-old Ducati. But could Ruben beat Rossi? I don't think so. Fourth Yamaha man Toni Elias has a bit to learn yet. And a bit to prove too, after a less-than-sparkling 250cc year on a Honda, outclassed by another bright Spanish ex-125 star, Dani Pedrosa. It is far-fetched, however, to imagine anybody beating Rossi on the same bike. So, we have to look elsewhere. To Kawasaki? Or Suzuki? This is a dream too far. The former has achieved more in two years of MotoGP than the latter has in three, the green bikes overtaking the blue ones during 2004, in spite of their generally unadventurous design. Even if Suzuki does manage to find the focus to reverse that trend, riders for neither marque (Shinya Nakano and Alex Hofmann again for Kawasaki, Kenny Roberts Jr. and John Hopkins ditto for Suzuki) can expect championship chances. Ducati? Its strong 2003 was followed by a slump in 2004 - the "improved" Desmosedici a handful, the extra power almost impossible to use. In the normal way of things, it would take some recovery from this position - but since the end of last year, the Italians have already served up some surprises. Such as dropping Troy Bayliss to take on Carlos Checa instead. Why? (Sponsorship is the answer.) And switching from Michelin to Bridgestone tires. Maybe Ducati's other rider, Loris Capirossi, can produce another surprise, adding to his 125 and 250cc titles. Aprilia is not very likely to be there at all, and Proton is also in a highly questionable state. Though if Proton does find backing, the V-four KTM engine they've been testing promises plenty. All they'll need then is good tires and a good rider. So, I guess it's down to Honda then. They have the weaponry, and the troops: Troy Bayliss and Marco Melandri slotting in to replace the departed Edwards and fill the added slot (there are seven Hondas this year, one more than last year); Max Biaggi swapping with Alex Barros to take over the top factory ride, alongside Nicky Hayden. Sete Gibernau stays put with Telef6nica, Makoto Tamada goes it alone with the new Konica team and a switch to Michelin tires. Some said last year that Honda's weakness was not having a clear number one. Instead, they took points away from one another, while Barros floundered in the role of head development rider. But it's hard to see Biaggi, after all these years, reversing a mindset that's been painfully drubbed into him, wherein he's beaten by Rossi even before the race has begun. Gibernau has similar problems. You might take it that any rider who owns a Ferrari, as do these two, is no longer hungry enough to take on one of the best riders who has ever lived. It will be down to one of the others to assume command, and firmly, because a rider of the stature to defeat Rossi will certainly have to be able to lick his fellow Honda riders into shape. Forget Barros, and (sadly) Bayliss, whose riding is wonderfully spirited but lacks depth. And I'm afraid I'm going to forget Nicky Hayden, too. He's for the future. That just leaves Makoto Tamada. And the way he rode last year, winning twice on Bridgestones, means that this particular dream might even last beyond the first bites of reality when testing begins. And who knows, maybe even into the start of the season, too. CYCLE NEWS • JANUARY 12, 2005 131

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