Saturday, May 1


AS the first free practice session was set to get underway, it is time to take stock of the likely top four riders.

First the Fiat Yamaha men, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo. The postponment of the Japanese GP at Motegi has given Lorenzo an extra week to let his injured hand heal. Given his late charge at Losail to runner-up, you'd have to say he will be looking good at Jerez. He was in pain for two days after Qatar but the break should mean he'll be good to go in Spain, although he will not want to repeat last year's result. He crashed out of the race.

Meantime, Rossi crashed a motocross bike in training just after the Qatar race and the shoulder injury he sustained was worse than he admitted. He over-rotated his right shoulder and stretched ligaments. In addition he has a small crack in the top of the humerus. So last year's race winner is carrying an injury.

Then there's Casey Stoner on the Marlboro Ducati. The brilliant Aussie has never won a race at Jerez in any class, 125, 250 or MotoGP. In fact, his third place last year was his first ever podium at the place. With no points in the championship after crashing out of the lead at Losail, Stoner says he is actually looking forward to Jerez, which in the past has been a race he has run under 'damage limitation.' This year's revised closer firing order V4 engine is making life easier and he says he "won't waste time swerving all over the place."

Which brings us to 2008 race winner Dani Pedrosa. The Spaniard is looking forward to trying a new frame to try to overcome stability problems. Seems like Honda has finally built a bike that other riders can actually fit on, and the result is that Pedrosa is not comfortable on it! His Repsol Honda team-mate Andrea Dovisioso meantime wants a more tractable engine and word is HRC will test a new engine on Monday, after the race, but no one is sure if or when it would get used because of the six-engine rule. IN a throw-back to their very first premier class GP engines (the old 500 four-stroke fours raced by Mike Hailwood), Honda has built an engine that has lots of top-end power and not even the new electronics package can alter that...

Of the rest, Nicky Hayden will be looking to do better than his fourth place finish at Losail on the Marlboro Ducati while Ben Spies is a dark horse. This is a track the Texan has not yet raced at, but given his prodigious ability to learn new circuits and go fast all at the same time, he will be one to keep an eye on.

Finally, Loris Capirossi has won at Jerez in the MotoGP class, but that was on the 990 days when he was racing a Ducati. Whether Suzuki can get its V4 competitive seems unlikely, but if it is half a chance, Capirossi will get the very best out of it.