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Moto Grand Prix championship review 2007


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By Dan Moakes
March 9 2008

The 2007 MotoGP World Championship marked the beginning of a new era, with motorcycle engine capacity reduced from 990cc to 800cc, to try and bring down speeds in the interests of safety. It was won by Casey Stoner for Ducati Marlboro Team, defeating the leading Yamaha and Honda riders. Read this site’s review of another record-breaking season - and discover our top ten riders.

The Motorcycle Grand Prix World Championship series began in 1949, with a 500cc upper limit for engine capacity in the premier class category. European machinery, primarily from British and Italian manufacturers, led the way in the early years; and in fact MV Agusta’s riders won the championship eighteen times from 1956 to 1974. But the Japanese invasion had begun in the 1960s, firstly in the lower classes. By the 1970s, Japan’s two-stroke technology was ready to take on MV’s four-stroke bikes, pretty much the last of a breed which soon became obsolete.

The 1980s saw Honda join in against rivals Yamaha and Suzuki, with Kawasaki a short-lived participant in the 500 class early in that decade. Heading into the 1990s, you had to have a V4-engined Japanese two-stroke to be a contender, with Honda’s NSR emerging as the leader of the pack. The same period saw the rise of production-based Superbike racing, with four-stroke bikes of 750cc to 1000cc from the Japanese ‘big four’ and from smaller Italian firm Ducati, who would become the most successful with their twin-engined machines.

Grand Prix bikes are racing prototypes, and by now two-stroke 500s were no longer relevant to the consumer on the high street, where Superbikes had clearly taken over - and most national championship racing series had dropped the 500 class by the early 1990s. In part to combat the success of Superbike racing, and in part to get GP racing out of an apparent technological rut, the 2002 season saw the introduction of new rules. Four-stroke prototypes of up to 990cc would now be allowed, and it was hoped that the extra capacity would make the new bikes competitive with the old 500s. In truth, the 990s were ahead from the word go, despite some gallant 500-mounted performances, and the old 500 class was dead and buried after just one season.

The 990cc era brought a range of solutions to the question of four-stroke technology, with alternate recipes for the number and configuration of cylinders; and it also tempted more manufacturers into the mix. Kawasaki returned, and Ducati adapted some of their Superbike innovations and joined the MotoGP class for the first time. Aprilia, Proton (Team KR), Harris WCM, and even Moriwaki appeared on the scene - as did Cosworth, KTM and (almost) Blata engine technology - but the five primary Superbike protagonists became the primary Grand Prix protagonists.

Like they had with the NSR500, Honda led the way with the V5-engined RC211V machine. Valentino Rossi won the first two 990 titles with this bike, then spearheaded the challenge to Honda as he moved to Yamaha in 2004, and the inline four-cylinder YZR-M1. As ever, machine development meant that speeds continued to increase. A cut in engine capacity, down to 800cc, was agreed during 2005, and the new rules came into action for this season. Top speeds were always going to be down, but the smaller machines were more rider friendly, which allowed for faster cornering. Arguably, this made the new bikes less safe, rather than more so, and it certainly meant that overall lap times were not much different. Quite often they were improved, but of course part of this was due to tyre development.

The new regulations meant a blank slate, and yet pretty much the same teams and manufacturers were the pace setters. The new Honda was perhaps not in the same class as its predecessor, but Repsol works rider Dani Pedrosa got on well enough with it, although his World Champion team-mate, Nicky Hayden, took a while to adapt to the RC212V. In comparison to the 990 bikes, the 800s were more rideable for those with proven 250cc skills, and the size reduction presumably also benefited a small guy such as Pedrosa. Yamaha’s team leader was again Valentino Rossi, and in fact the 800cc M1 worked better for the Italian than had the 2006 bike at the outset. And Ducati were the other leading marque, although team veteran Loris Capirossi was not to match his impressive form of 2006 as often as might have been expected.

Rossi remains the prominent racer of his generation but, at 28, there were eleven younger riders in regular series action, and three more who also appeared during the year. As in 2006, when the Italian had been defeated by Nicky Hayden and Honda, Rossi’s good luck deserted him at times during the season. But his tyres were another factor, as the advantage had swung away from Michelin towards Bridgestone. Now in their sixth season, the Japanese company had made good strides since joining up with a major manufacturer in 2004 - when they were race winners with Makoto Tamada in the Pramac/Pons Honda team. Good performance had been becoming a more consistent proposition year on year.

In 2007, Bridgestone supplied Kawasaki, Suzuki, both Ducati teams, and the second Honda team of Fausto Gresini. Michelin supplied the factory Honda and Yamaha teams, all the remaining Honda runners, and the very short-lived Ilmor project. Dunlop supplied just one team, but also adopted the role of title sponsor for the Tech 3 Yamaha outfit. Bridgestone’s most effective team was the Marlboro-backed works Ducati squad, who they now supplied for the third year. Their lead rider was a revelation, as 21-year-old Australian Casey Stoner (now 22) adopted that role after just one year in MotoGP. In fact, he became the lead rider in the series. In contrast, Rossi was not always happy with his Michelins, which led to some controversy later.

It was stated in this site’s first 2007 GP race report: The performance of a racing motorbike is about the balance between power, handling, and tyre grip. The 990 bikes had more power than their tyres could usefully transmit to the race track, making them somewhat challenging creatures to navigate. The new 800s apparently have the advantage with their better use of the engine’s power, and more effective steering response. The upshot of which is that the current bikes both accelerate in a more rider-friendly manner, and they corner faster, not unlike 250cc machines. Many in the GP field had significant experience racing the smaller bikes - that is most of the European riders and a few more besides, particularly Stoner.

Pre-season, there were expectations of a Rossi-Pedrosa title chase, but the Ducati-Bridgestone-Stoner combination changed all that. Initially, it seemed that the Ducati was fastest in a straight line, with the Yamahas best at cornering, and Honda disadvantaged apparently due to the engine mass being too low for sufficient weight transference when on the brakes. Having been fast but fragile with a customer Honda, the move to Ducati helped Casey to take a step forward as a racer. Now fast and reliable, he won first time out, and would come home in the top six at every other race. Four rounds in he had three wins, he even took three in a row at one stage, and by the end had ten wins in total. In the decade since Mick Doohan’s period of dominance, only Rossi had managed double figures in one season.

In one 2005 race, all of Honda’s seven riders at the time missed out on the podium, and it also happened once in 2001, twice in 2000, and three times in 1999. HRC have clearly had the best record in MotoGP for many years, and these statistics show how unusual it is for them not to the make the top three in modern times. The fact that it happened four times in 2007 says a lot about their latest bike’s ultimate performance and, significantly, Donington saw their worst result in 25 years, with Pedrosa their best man in eighth. On top of that, Honda’s ultimate tally of two wins, both for Dani, was the company’s worst since 1993. At the same time, Yamaha’s fortunes seemed to be even more tied to their tyres, making what seemed like a better bike also come out with a less good season that in 2006.

While Ducati was the marque with the most improved fortunes, they weren’t the only ones to move forward. Suzuki had gone ninety races without a win when wet conditions at Le Mans allowed Chris Vermeulen to put that right, following in the footsteps of his former mentor Barry Sheene - who was celebrated via Chris’ retro livery in Australia. In general, the boys in blue were on the up, with John Hopkins a consistent contender knocking on the podium placings, and Vermeulen not far behind, when he wasn’t ahead. Kawasaki continued to show promise, although once more solid results were somewhat scarce. Overall competition meant that in the Barcelona race there was the phenomenon of five different manufacturers finishing in the top five, with Kawasaki following on behind Ducati, Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki.

But, again, much of the above can in part be explained by the tyre war. Bridgestone had won eight races in the previous three seasons, to the 42 for Michelin. The Japanese rubber had worked well on certain occasions, but with greater numbers on their strength in 2007 they had more development opportunities. The result was that Bridgestone emerged with the superior product and, helped by Ducati in particular, they won twelve races. Michelin managed only half as many, and their lead riders thereby could not consistently cope with the form shown by Stoner.

The worst race for the French tyres came in Japan, which started out in damp conditions. Rossi, Pedrosa and Edwards were towards the front before the pit stops, but they were each out a long time before stopping for their bikes on dry tyres. Dani didn’t even make it in, because he crashed, and Valentino found himself on unsuitable tyres and had to stop again - still, he and Colin struggled for pace, and it was Hayden in ninth who led home for Michelin. Bridgestone’s leaders on the day were Melandri and Stoner, but these two also waited a little too late, and earlier runners came through - with Dunlop’s Guintoli fourth in the midst of a Bridgestone pack, headed by the experienced Capirossi. Both the Dunlop riders started on the second row in the last race, but they were mostly unable to challenge the leaders for results.

Two-thirds of the way into the season, Rossi was calling for the 2007 tyre regulations to be changed for the following year, and the idea of a control tyre came under discussion, later to be discounted. Rossi had said that he wanted Bridgestone tyres on his Yamaha, even though his team-mate would be getting the Michelin product, and Pedrosa was believed to feel the same way. The Italian former champion was even rumoured to be about to quit MotoGP if he didn’t get his way. Rossi got his wish, but Pedrosa will continue with the European rubber, and the proof of the 2008 products will be seen in due course.

Meanwhile, there was the rest of the racing. The three leading contenders secured all the race wins bar two, as mentioned. This trio took all the top places in only three events, but that meant a thrilling contest between Ducati, Yamaha and Honda in Barcelona, with Stoner, Rossi and Pedrosa finishing in that order. It wasn’t so close in Qatar, where the result was the same, but there was some good racing both here and in Portugal - at which track the Michelin riders were top. That occasion saw Rossi defeat Pedrosa, with Stoner in third. As Casey stretched his advantage, the other two were left to battle for second overall. Rossi won more often than Pedrosa, but had more bad luck. He needed just one point in Valencia to be sure of the position, then he crashed in qualifying and injured his right hand. This meant starting near the back, but the Italian was doing just about enough when his engine failed. Pedrosa won the race, and Rossi was pushed down to third by just one point. The title was deservedly Stoner’s though, but the impressive youngster must know that the others will want to come back at him as he defends it.

2005 © Getty Images
© Getty Images

Motorcycle Racing Online’s 2007 MotoGP top ten

1 Casey Stoner - Ducati Marlboro Team
Casey Stoner’s pedigree was good: a seven-time Grand Prix winner in the lower classes, and the 250cc runner-up in 2005; then a speedy MotoGP season on a customer Honda RC211V, albeit with quite a few crashes. His form didn’t quite suggest that he’d be a consistent front runner and title challenger on the 800cc Ducati Desmosedici GP7, but that is what happened, and he led the field almost from the start of the first race, which he won. Round two was on a more technical circuit, and his fifth there suggested that Ducati would struggle at such tracks, but right after that he took two more convincing wins, followed by third on a difficult day in France. His next win was in Barcelona, where he had to fight off Rossi and Pedrosa all the way, and he followed up by coming through again in a wet but drying British race. He was beaten in Holland and Germany, but kept on adding points, and was again dominant in the US, the Czech Republic and San Marino - performances which would clearly keep him out of any trouble. That was probably also true in Estoril, where he was ‘only’ in third place due to clutch worries; and then a safe sixth in Japan, where he stopped probably a few laps late, was enough to secure the title on a day that was worse for his main rivals. He added two more fairly comprehensive wins for good measure, including as the homecoming hero at Phillip Island, and another second to the one he’d had at Assen. At just short of 22, Casey became the second youngest champion in the main class, and he should remain the benchmark for the others in 2008.

2 Valentino Rossi - Fiat Yamaha Team
Valentino Rossi’s great skill is undisputed, and the inconsistency of his challengers meant that he made it five consecutive top class GP titles in 2005. Things began to turn against the Italian in 2006, but surely some more good fortune would have seen him take the honours yet again, despite handling problems with the new Yamaha. Rossi made a valiant attempt to take back his crown, but this time the opposition was too strong, and tyre rubber was a limiting factor. He was the best qualifier in the first half of the season, but the Ducati was faster, and in races he had to use his cornering prowess to keep with Stoner at times. His work rate was clear in China and Catalunya, yet both times he was defeated by the youngster. Rossi won in Spain and continued his personal home domination in the Mugello race, where Pedrosa was the main rival. His big moment was his third win, at Assen, where he chased through the field, caught Stoner and decisively defeated him - although perhaps Michelin had the advantage that day. It was Yamaha’s 150th victory in the top GP class, but after that he would only add one more.

There were other misfortunes, such as a terminal engine at Misano, but the contentious issue for Rossi was the Michelin tyre performance relative to Bridgestone. The French rubber had a good day in Germany, but an unwell Rossi crashed out when chasing the leaders. On other occasions his prospects seemed worse: the first obvious tyre problems hit in Turkey, where he slipped from third to an eventual tenth, and in France the soft wets came out second best, which meant P6. The harder wets in Britain left him fourth and behind Edwards, and the rear tyre in the Czech race meant only seventh. The Michelins worked well enough when Rossi took the race at Estoril, where he used all his skill to defeat Pedrosa, but they were horrible in the dry part of the Japanese race, although an unhelpful extra stop was Valentino’s own tactical failure. Although the pace was not there in Malaysia, his ill luck in Valencia was what stopped him scoring the single point to keep ahead of Pedrosa, and for the first time Rossi finished lower than second in the top class of GP racing. With a change of tyres he will be a contender in 2008.

3 Dani Pedrosa - Repsol Honda Team
Dani Pedrosa had three GP titles for Honda in the lower classes, and a more than secure rookie MotoGP season in 2006 when, despite a couple of incidents, he had won twice and added nine other top four results - even beating his experienced team-mate first time out. He had ended any doubts about his stature in relation to the big machines, but the advent of smaller bikes for 2007 surely suited him even more. It was time to step up, and Dani adapted well, but the Honda and Michelin combination was not up there to challenge Stoner, who he only beat five times all year. There were encouraging signs when he secured pole position for his home race at Jeréz, then when going fastest in dry practice at Mugello, but both races saw him second to Rossi. After half the season his seven top-four results still included no race wins, but the heat in Germany worked for his Michelins and he rode well to take that one, and the end of the year saw more encouragement as Dani was the fastest qualifier for the final four races. He crashed in Japan, where he left it late to stop, and had been knocked off by Kawasaki riders in two previous races. But despite these no-scores the season culminated with his defeat of Stoner for another victory in Valencia, and this was just enough to edge in front of Rossi as title runner-up. Will Honda enable him to go one better?

4 John Hopkins - Rizla Suzuki MotoGP
His team-mate had the best result for Suzuki this season, but John Hopkins had been with the marque for the previous four years, and it was he who made the better overall impression - even after signing to move camps for 2008. John was without a podium result after five GP years, but had got close in 2006 - a season in which he had a total of eight top six results. This season he was rarely off that pace, and usually qualified on the second or third row, which meant only four times behind Vermeulen. He made it onto the front row in China and led initially, then later took third back from Melandri for his long-awaited first rostrum, even if he couldn’t stay ahead of Rossi to go one better. He’d started with fourth despite a painful wrist, then managed to crash out of the same position in race two. Again he raced with the leaders in Barcelona, which left him fourth when the pace of the top three told. Later there followed a strong second in Brno, and he was third behind Chris at Misano, taking the same place decisively in Valencia. He also led the chaotic French race, but was pushed back and made a mistake which left him seventh. John was also unlucky at home in the US, as a clash with Hayden put him out of contention at the start. Disappointments aside, there were eleven results in the top six, a couple of fastest race laps, and a new contract with Kawasaki to show for his efforts.

5 Chris Vermeulen - Rizla Suzuki MotoGP
Even after a full season with Suzuki, Chris Vermeulen was really the least experienced regular MotoGP rider this year. Like Hopkins, he benefited from the team’s improved fortunes with the new GSV-R800, but perhaps not so consistently on the results sheets. However, his skills were shown off to good effect on a number of occasions, and in the best possible way when he took victory in the very wet French race, making his pit stop before the leading group, then forging his way past four of the top men to go second in the tricky conditions. He then passed Hopkins and never looked back. Rain also hit the race in Britain, where Chris came third - and he started from the front row three times, adding a further pole position at Assen, and second in Mugello, both times aided by the rain. Race pace was not always quite there, as at these two venues and especially in Portugal, but a bigger delay in the Dutch race was thanks to de Puniet. His best dry qualifying came in the US, where he’d had such a good race the year before, and he converted third into an impressive second. He repeated the result at Misano, winning a straight fight with Hopkins, and there was also a fastest lap in Turkey. He needs to do it more often, but Chris should be a factor in 2008.

6 Marco Melandri - Gresini Honda
It was another strong season for Marco Melandri, now in his third year with Fausto Gresini’s Honda team. He had appeared on the podium 14 times with the 990 bike, winning five races, but again the new Honda was not as competitive as its predecessor. The Italian managed eleven results in the top six, but there were no more wins, and in fact he only qualified on the front row twice, the first time being straight after he’d got the latest works parts. Marco seemed to have front-running pace at times, but more than once was unable to sustain it to the flag - such as at Mugello, where he advanced to second but finished ninth; in Assen, where fourth became tenth; and at Sachsenring, where second became sixth. Worn tyres in Australia meant he went from fourth back to tenth, and races like these stopped him from securing fourth overall, with Hopkins proving more consistent. Highlights though included second in France, with a good wet ride; and Marco rode with a painful ankle in the US but took a good third, probably with some help from the tyres - the injuries kept him out at Brno. There was a good charge at Misano, and he led in Japan - but his stop was slightly late and he would end up fifth. The heat of Malaysia then saw him win a good battle with Pedrosa to take second, despite an unhelpful drink bottle problem. But Marco’s best could still be ahead of him.

7 Loris Capirossi - Ducati Marlboro Team
Staying with Ducati, the seasoned Loris Capirossi came off his best year in MotoGP, with only an unfortunate accident in Catalunya stopping his title challenge. Loris didn’t build on that success with the new 800, his son’s birth being cited as a possible distraction. But his feel for the new breed of machines was apparently lacking, the Ducati not working for him the way it did for new recruit Stoner. Too often poor qualifying hampered some good rides, and it was his first year in the top class without starting from the front row - although sometimes offset by his starting technique. He moved up to fifth in race one but crashed, and in Italy seemed back to his best with a new engine spec as he took the lead - but then made a mistake. From a start of P17 he took sixth in the Catalan race, but after a good ride a late crash took him out of fifth in Britain, and there was more disappointment in Portugal. But it was a fighting season, with his experience a major key, and more great results including four podium visits. In the one event where he started in front of Stoner, his Japanese race win was a triumph of tactics - stopping at one-third distance as the conditions dried, setting the pace after that and never looking back. Second place in Germany was also tactically astute, with a different Bridgestone tyre choice that saw him beat all his colleagues, and Australia saw him move through well to repeat that result. Now on 2900 points for his GP career, Loris should not be counted out.

8 Nicky Hayden - Repsol Honda Team
Nicky Hayden was not one of the riders with helpful 250cc road racing experience, and his efforts to adapt to the new 800 weren’t helped by off-season injuries, which limited his testing time. The Michelin ‘situation’ did not help his cause, and to begin with he didn’t show the confidence of a world champion. He had to wait until the last seven meetings for a front row start, and race results saw him outside the top six until round nine - and beaten by at least two Hondas every time until then. In the midst of this period came a good run to fourth in France, until he crashed with the track at its wettest; and he also went well in similar conditions in Britain, where he also crashed. He out-qualified team-mate Pedrosa only four times in the year, and surely he hoped for a more effective title defence, but those later races saw more convincing form. He was back on pole in Portugal, and took three podium finishes, twice ahead of Pedrosa. He might have done the same in Australia, where he seemed to be in a secure second until his bike failed him. His chances of three wins in a row at Laguna Seca ended with a first lap incident, and he was also delayed at Misano; but he made a mistake at Sepang, and went back from second to eighth in the Valencia race, which his partner won. Overall, Nicky was only third of the Honda men, and disappointingly he was more than 100 points behind the Spaniard.

9 Sylvain Guintoli - Dunlop Tech 3 Yamaha
Sylvain Guintoli had done five years as an Aprilia 250 GP racer, with his best season in 2003 including his one and only podium result. In 2002 he performed the role of test rider for the French Tech 3 Yamaha team, and made his only 500 GP start as a wildcard at Brno that year. But the rookie MotoGP rider made a good impression on the Dunlop Yamaha this year, his talents sometimes allowed to flourish when conditions, and/or tyre technology, allowed. He out-qualified team-mate Tamada 13-5, was three times on the third row, and once on the second - an impressive fifth in Valencia. His racing highlights were in the wet races of France and Japan. In the first of these he moved through early on to go in front, but would soon crash. He got back into the race, changed bikes soon after, and managed to still take a best-yet tenth. He ran the same position at Brno but ended up in P13, and scored regularly elsewhere. But Motegi saw his best result, Sylvain timing his stop well and then making some excellent laps on the drying track, briefly heading Elías for third, and securing by far Dunlop’s best result of fourth. He was Yamaha’s first man home, as he would be in Valencia, and he will look to build on these performances in future.

10 Colin Edwards - Fiat Yamaha Team
Colin Edwards once again had the distinction of being measured against one of the undisputed greats, as team-mate to Rossi, and of course he therefore had similar tyre problems. The Texan rider scored his first and second Grand Prix pole positions, and was a fast qualifier in general in the early rounds. But as the season developed for Colin, a realistic chance of his first GP win never arose. He had a tendency to drop back into the pack in races, such as from third to eleventh in China, and from fifth to eleventh in the US. And in fact the first of his poles, in France, saw him drop almost to last on lap one, on a wet track. A good start had included third in round two, but his opportunity to follow this up was ended by Olivier Jacque on the first lap of the next race, which also resulted in a knee injury. It was the first of only two no-scores, the second being an early crash at Brno. Some anonymous rides meant he was only in the top six five times overall, but the best of these was a good second in Britain. His pole position did count this time, as he led away in the damp and held the position again after passing Pedrosa - but then it was Stoner who came through to win. With six podiums in three years at Yamaha, Colin has not been able to hold on to his works ride, which must mean that his prospects will be seriously reduced.


The best of the rest

Following a year in Superbikes, Brazilian veteran Alex Barros returned and took his tally to 282 GP race entries, having started in 1986, before he opted for retirement at the end of the year. The seven-time race winner still had the ability, but the d’Antín Ducati did not always allow him to show it. For the first season since 1992, Alex failed to qualify on the front row of the grid, and he also missed out on the second. The races went better, at least at times. On a Bridgestone day he was fourth in Turkey, and he showed as high as second in France, but would later crash after dropping back in testing conditions. In Italy he took his 32nd top class podium - beating Stoner with his late-braking to be first Ducati home, and the first on the Japanese tyres. His best qualifying results included China, where he was the innocent victim of an early incident; Germany, where he crashed when seventh; and Australia, where he converted seventh to a good fifth at the flag. Misano saw more positives, as he moved through from 17th to seventh. He was on target for better when his bike gave up on him. Much the same happened in Portugal, although from a better start slot. Never quite a contender, the rapid Barros will be missed by MotoGP fans.

Alex Hofmann was joined in the d’Antín team by Barros, and this put the German into a more accustomed number two role. His form was promising in the early races, making an especially good impression in France, where he raced strongly to fifth in the wet, ahead of Rossi, and to his best ever GP result. He would then qualify tenth in Barcelona and eighth at Assen, where the session was wet, going to eleventh in the points after ten races. But his season was wrecked at Laguna Seca, where he was taken out by Guintoli in a practice session crash. He was back twice later on, but was then dropped in favour of Welsh rider Chaz Davies - who made some good lap times but, with poor luck, failed to score. His non-starting in the last race due to injury meant there would be no points scored by a British rider for the first season ever in the top Grand Prix class. Iván Silva and Shin’ichi Itoh each rode the Hofmann bike once, with the Japanese veteran getting a single point in his home race.

Randy de Puniet stayed with Kawasaki for his second MotoGP season, and the team had more glimpses of promise with the ZX-RR 800. Taking over as team leader, the Frenchman was usually a quick qualifier - often on row two and twice on row one. But the bike was in truth behind those of the other factories, which meant it usually could not stay with them, and the rider didn’t quite shake off an erratic tendency. However, he got it right several times, and in Japan judged the pit stop window right, and thereafter rode an assured race to second. This came after the French race, where the wet track had allowed him to move through to the lead. But like Guintoli he crashed, causing a collarbone injury. He also crashed in Italy, injuring a knee; hit Vermeulen in the Netherlands and was out on the spot; and collided with Pedrosa at the beginning in Misano. More on the plus side, he was sixth at one stage in Germany but retired from eighth when his bike stopped, as it would in Portugal. Straight racing conditions, without the intervention of rain, saw Randy a strong fifth in Barcelona; and he was fourth in Malaysia, which put him ahead of Rossi on the day. The Frenchman will need to deliver more often in future.

Anthony West returned to the top class in Grands Prix, after a career on mostly 250 machinery that had included a strong 2003, with victory in the Netherlands. He was out of luck on his latest Aprilia 250, but then showed winning form as a Yamaha substitute rider in World Supersport, which led to him being picked up as replacement for Jacque at Kawasaki. He took the opportunity and used it to good effect, which meant a run of points results, and he even started by going fastest in the rain-affected warm-up session at Donington, and moving up to fourth in the race before he lost control. He came back from P15 to P11 there, would show great qualifying form more than once, and in Japan even led in the wet. That race was spoilt by a marginal jump-start, but he climbed back to take seventh after serving his penalty. The next race saw another penalty, when he had been in a useful fifth, but altogether the signs were good, and West was retained by the men in green.

French rider Olivier Jacque was recalled to action full-time to take over the Kawasaki from former 250cc title rival and team-mate Shin’ya Nakano. He had ridden the previous bike at times in 2005, when his début with it brought a great wet weather second position in China. This year’s outings quite likely brought a close to the seven-time winner’s GP career, as he managed to end the race for Pedrosa and Edwards in Turkey, and after that made only one more start, after getting hurt in China. That said, rain gave ‘OJ’ a chance to qualify fourth in Italy, although in the race he was not a feature. Following this he withdrew altogether, returning to a test rider role. Current Kawasaki Superbike runner Fonsi Nieto had a return to GP racing to take Jacque’s place in France, finishing in P11; and other Kawasaki wildcards were given to Nicky’s brother Roger Lee Hayden and to Akira Yanagawa. Hayden was tenth in the US, and ahead of Edwards, while the Japanese rider failed to score in his home race.

Toní Elías had a second year with Gresini Honda, and it was another campaign with up and down performances. There was no shock win this time, but he had some good results, including fourth in Spain and third in Japan, which showed the kind of form he was capable of. His big moment was early on, in Turkey, where he forced his way past Rossi to earn a clear second place. The contrast was shown next time out in China, where he was in the centre of a first turn incident and went no further. He showed well in France but soon dropped back and then crashed, whilst in Catalunya he was unlucky enough to have engine failure when contesting fifth. He missed three races when he broke a leg in a practice accident at Assen, but the Motegi race was still to come, and here he was to benefit from a relatively early stop for the dry bike. Toní then forged on spectacularly for third, with fastest lap, and he already taken one of those in the wet British race. Again, he needs to do it more often.

Honda Superbike rider Michel Fabrizio had another rare GP outing on the Elías bike in Germany, with a decent tenth; and Canadian AMA veteran Miguel DuHamel, a 500 Yamaha rider back in 1992, raced the same Gresini machine in the US. The 40-year-old did not finish.

Carlos Checa had done well for Ducati in 2005, then spent a less than competitive season with the Tech 3 Yamaha. His fortunes improved with a move to Honda LCR, but still it was rare to see him in contention, even with two front row qualifications. As well as the third place starts in Spain and France, there were three third row grid places. The experienced Spaniard squeezed into the top six for results at Jeréz and Misano, with good rides; was seventh in Portugal; and showed his true form with early wet pace in France. But ultimately the 24-time podium finisher would suffer his worst season in a decade, and he will hope to rekindle the spark with a move to Superbikes.

Shin’ya Nakano had been with the promising Kawasaki GP squad for three years and helped them to a couple of podium results against strong opposition. For 2007 the former long-term Yamaha rider made another move and, rather than step forward with the JiR Honda, this time it proved to be the wrong decision for the dependable Japanese. Usually a good qualifier, this year his machinery rarely let him get as high up as the third row of the grid. He still had some good race starts, which saw him run sixth in Spain, eighth in China, Germany, the US and Australia, and ninth in San Marino; but tenth was his best placing at the flag, and that meant fewer points than any other full-time Honda rider. Then again, his Konica Minolta team has never looked like challenging the leaders, so it is difficult to assess his full potential with the marque.

Kenny Roberts had revived his fortunes with the Honda-powered Team KR machine in 2006, almost winning in Portugal, and with many other good rides. But it was back to tail-end status this year, with the same technical combination in 800cc format. After seven rounds, the former champion stepped down without much to show for his efforts, and younger brother Kurtis took over after two races as team-mate to Kenny. The former AMA title winner soldiered on and scored in five outings, with a best of P12 in Germany, but it was a disappointing comedown for Kenny Senior’s team. British Superbike front-runner Jonathan Rea was pencilled in to race for them at Donington, but his chance was blocked by Honda in Japan.

Makoto Tamada had raced in GPs with Honda, his machines with Bridgestone and Michelin tyres. This season he switched to Yamaha and Dunlop in the Tech 3 team, and once more his sparkling form of 2004 was mostly missing. He twice qualified on the second row, with a best for Dunlop of fourth in Portugal, where he looked like taking eighth until a late fall. He scored regularly but, with a best result of eighth, in a good US ride, Makoto came bottom of all the riders to complete the full season - and twelve points behind lesser known team-mate Guintoli. The French rider beat him by almost a minute in Japan, and by eight places, which did not show the former GP and Superbike race winner in a positive light.

Kousuke Akiyoshi raced twice for Suzuki, and in the wet-dry Motegi event he led the team when he ran fifth for a few laps, before he hit problems when seventh. Nobuatsu Aoki was their wildcard rider for Malaysia, and the former fourth place finisher on Suzuki’s 500 took three points there as he fulfilled his testing role with the 2008 chassis.

The Ilmor GP team appeared only briefly with their Michelin-shod X³ racer. 42-year-old Jeremy McWilliams was injured and did not start the Qatar race; team-mate Andrew Pitt crashed. They had been the slowest qualifiers. Before either man could try and make amends, the outfit’s racing efforts were suspended for financial reasons, and they never reappeared.


On the whole, the new 800cc formula was judged by some as less exciting than what had gone before; perhaps because of Stoner’s dominance, and the difficulties that prevented either Rossi or Pedrosa mounting a true championship challenge. Also the fact that none of their three team-mates were really even contenders. But these things are relative, and there was still some excellent racing, and dramatic demonstrations of the riders’ skills. There were younger riders emerging, and there was the resurgence of Suzuki, with probably their best season since 2000 - but certainly their best since 2002, after which Ducati had joined the fray as a third major rival. Wins for Stoner started to look predictable, and yet no rider had even managed to convert pole into victory until round eleven - at which point the Australian did it three times running - but Pedrosa’s final race success was the only other time it happened. But with one year down in the 800 era, lessons will have been learnt, and competition promises much in the future. Join us here for coverage of the 2008 season.


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Extra notes on the 2007 season included the sad death of former Yamaha GP winner Norick Abe, who lost his life in a road accident. Also, that the San Marino Grand Prix was back on the schedule for the first time since 1993, which meant a return to the former Italian GP venue of Misano - with the direction of racing reversed to clockwise for the current circuit. This made for 18 stops, with twelve European races, and visits to four other regions. Despite the reduced entry lists, due to the lack of customer machinery in the prototype era, MotoGP is booming.


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09/03/2008 00:15
Moto Grand Prix championship review 2007

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