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6 days ago
By Matthew Birt

And the candidates for winner number 9 are...

MotoGP™ commentator Matthew Birt looks ahead to the Aragon GP and the possibility of a ninth winner

With 21 years of experience reporting on MotoGP™, Matthew Birt knows the championship inside-out. For the 2016 season he remains with the motogp.com team to bring you exclusive news and opinion from inside the paddock.

My massive sporting passion outside of MotoGP is football, and in particular Leicester City. I’ve supported them man and boy, and after my Dad took me to my first game way back in 1982, I’ve been hooked ever since.

Dismissed as no-hopers by the bookies last season, who had priced them at 5000/1, a team made up of cast-offs and bargain buys pulled off one of the biggest shocks in global sporting history by winning the Premier League in England. It was a story so outlandish that had you pitched it to Hollywood, it would have been dismissed as being too farfetched.

Which brings me back to MotoGP™.

I’d imagine the odds of this weekend’s Motorland Aragon race being won by a ninth different rider in nine races are about as long as the 5000/1 slapped on my team last season, but I would love nothing more than to see the stupendous sequence of different winners continue. That said, I think there’s more chance of me being Jorge Lorenzo’s factory Ducati teammate in 2017 than there is of a ninth different winner in succession.

But there’s no harm in dreaming, so let’s look at the possible candidates to make it a noteworthy nine.

The most obvious is Andrea Dovizioso, and I base that judgement very loosely on the fact that he is the only other of the full-time riders that has previously won in the premier class. His solitary victory seems an eternity away now at the British Grand Prix in 2009, and one wet race win at Donington Park in 155 premier class starts doesn’t suggest he will be carving up the record books. His best chance might be a wet race after he led in the rain in Assen, Germany and Brno, but the physical nature of Motorland Aragon could be his and the undoing of Ducati.

This year’s Desmosedici GP machine has been turned into a winning machine by Andrea Iannone in Austria, but on fast and physical tracks, the Bologna bullet has been a beast to manhandle. The first three sectors at Motorland Aragon feature 15 corners, which include punishing changes of direction at the reverse Corkscrew for turns 8 and 9. Up next is the complex 12 and 13 that is quickly followed by the tricky turns 14 and 15 section before the grunt and top speed of the Ducati does come into its own with the long drag race down the back straight. Both Dovizioso and Iannone had arm pump issues at Silverstone and both have spoken frequently how the Desmosedici lacks the finesse and agility of its rivals. And Dovizioso drew more attention to some of Ducati’s current issues last time out in Misano. A lack of turning means you have to wrestle the bike more to steer it. As the race wears on and the grip drops the problem is only exaggerated, and as the rider has to put in more physical input and burn more energy to control the Desmosedici, they become more ragged and the lap times get slower and not as consistent.

Oh, and Ducati hasn’t won at Aragon since Casey Stoner won the inaugural event back in 2010.

What of Aleix Espargaro? At Suzuki, he’s on another factory machine that has also ended its long-running victory drought in 2016. Just one top 10 finish in the last seven doesn’t look good and he’s scored just nine points in that run, which includes non-finishes in five. If you’re clinging to the hope that he could match the brilliance Maverick Vinales at Silverstone, bear in mind his one and only MotoGP™ podium came at Motorland Aragon in 2014 in a flag-to-flag battle.

Then there’s younger brother Pol, who hasn’t yet broken his podium duck in 48 attempts at premier class level. Motorland Aragon though has been a happy hunting ground for him in the past, with 125cc and Moto2 victories in 2010 and 2011.

Of those left on the permanent entry list, only four have finished on a MotoGP podium previously. They are Scott Redding, Danilo Petrucci, Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl.
History suggests Scott Redding and Danilo Petrucci will need it wet or changeable conditions for a flag-to-flag to bring them into contention for some history script writing. Redding’s two premier class podium finishes were in a flag-to-flag in Misano last year and the rain in Assen in late June. He was in podium contention too for much of the rain-hit races in Germany and Brno, so he may well be looking for the skies to intervene to bolster his hopes. Petrucci’s one and only MotoGP rostrum was in the pouring rain at Silverstone a year ago and his last top six came almost a year ago at Sepang.

Le Mans in 2014 was the last time Bautista supped Cava on the podium, and while the Aprilia RS-GP might be creeping closer to the front pack in MotoGP, I can’t see the Spaniard springing a surprise. The Aprilia is yet to score a top six finish in wet or dry conditions and Bautista’s 12th place on the grid was the Noale factory’s best qualifying performance since Colin Edwards at Valencia way back in 2003!

Bradl has just one premier class podium, which came on the LCR Honda at Laguna Seca in 2013. That came on the same weekend he scored his lone MotoGP™ pole position. What you can decipher from that is Bradl adores Laguna Seca. So unless Motorland Aragon is cancelled and we suddenly find ourselves on a mad Transatlanic mission to California, I wouldn’t be parting with too much of my children’s inheritance on a Bradl win. Hang on, what was it they said about Leicester City?

You have to go back to 2012 for the last time Hector Barbera scored points at Motorland Aragon and his Avintia Ducati teammate Loris Baz isn’t even sure to participate after a bruising and battering British Grand Prix crash kept him sidelines in Mugello.

I’ll eat the keyboard of this laptop I’m typing on right now if Alex Lowes wins as Bradley Smith’s injury replacement. That’s not being derogatory to Alex at all, but a win for him would be an upset to rival David beating Goliath, and I’m sure even he would admit that.

Tito Rabat loves Motorland Aragon and hasn’t finished outside of the top two in the last three years in Moto2, including a brilliant win a year ago. But he hasn’t finished any higher than ninth in his brutally tough rookie MotoGP™ campaign. To be honest, and excuse the pun, but he looks like a Rabat caught in the headlights.

Eugene Laverty is another who may need the rain in Spain to fall mainly on Aragon if he is to head to WorldSBK with a slice of history in his pocket. Laverty has excelled in dry, mixed and wet conditions so far this season, but a wet race or one that has changing conditions could play into his hands, as he simply has absolutely nothing to lose and can just go for broke.

Yonny Hernandez may well have had his 15 minutes of fame for 2016 when he bravely led in atrocious conditions at Assen before tumbling out. He hasn’t scored a top 10 finish since Motorland Aragon in 2015, so a win for him would be every bit as remarkable as Boris Becker winning Wimbledon as an unseeded and unknown 17-year-old and when James ‘Buster’ Douglas dumped the seemingly invincible ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson on his backside.

And what about Nicky Hayden? He’s in for the injured Jack Miller in Team Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS this weekend and did finish on the podium in the inaugural Motorland Aragon round back in 2010 when at Ducati. Hayden though is going off the 10-metre board in at the deep end this weekend. He’s never ridden the new generation Michelin tyres or controlled electronics. And while he is a former MotoGP™ World Champion and race winner, he’s coming into a field that’s never been as rammed full of so much quality talent as it is now.

The beauty of sport and MotoGP™ is you never know what is going to happen next. I’m still recovering from the shock of Leicester City winning the Premier League and that was five months ago.

If a ninth different winner in a row emerges in MotoGP this weekend, I’ll believe fairies and mermaids are real too.

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