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All eyes on Valentino Rossi for 2011 MotoGP season

Valentino Rossi
Rossi's pre-season preparations have been hampered by a shoulder injury

By Azi Farni
BBC's new pit-lane reporter

Many of you in the United Kingdom will not know who I am but I have been working in the paddock since 2009 as a reporter for Dorna and motogp.com.

It has been a great experience going from watching MotoGP on my TV on a Sunday to spending race days in amongst it all.

I know people get hyped up for the new season every year but I am really eager for this campaign to start. It is the last one in the 800cc category and I think it is going to be one to remember.

Of course, the big news is Valentino Rossi's move from Yamaha to the Ducati team and I stayed on after the race in Valencia to watch his first laps on board the Desmosedici at the first official test.

There was a lot more press coverage than usual and everyone was waiting with bated breath for the rain to ease off and for the nine-time world champion to take to the track.

There is a lot of debate about what he will do on the Ducati this year and I think it will be very difficult for him to recreate his sensational winning debut for Yamaha at Welkom in 2004 or the subsequent championship crown that followed.

I certainly expect him to be winning races but, with testing and development slowed by his recovery from a shoulder injury, I think it will be a tough start to the season for "The Doctor".

But if anyone can turn it around in an instant, it is Rossi. The other riders definitely know better than to underestimate his chances.

Jorge Lorenzo
Lorenzo will find this year's competition tougher than in 2010

Ducati have certainly put a lot of work into their off-season development. There are some big changes to the bike they presented at Wrooom, notably a new fairing designed to help combat the front-end issues seen too often last year.

There are a lot of other changes and developments that could prove significant for the 2011 title race.

Casey Stoner, riding his first laps on board a factory Honda after his switch from Ducati, was beaming with smiles at the end of each day of testing after his stunningly quick adaptation to the RC212V.

He posted the fastest time in Valencia and third-fastest time overall in Sepang.

Dani Pedrosa, who clocked the second-fastest time in Sepang, was very happy with the Honda package for this year, primarily because there were no wholesale changes to the bike that was arguably one of the strongest packages in the latter half of last season.

The fact that the Honda factory have not brought out a completely new bike at the start of this year, something seen in previous tests, can only bode well for the six riders.

With the 2011 spec bike seeming to address the braking stability issues from 2010, I think we could well see Hondas dominating the top positions this year, with Andrea Dovizioso and Marco Simoncelli - the fastest rider in Sepang and riding with factory support - challenging for wins and podiums more consistently.

You cannot take too much from testing but I think Honda have the bike to beat this year.

The good news for British fans is that there are eight British riders to follow across the classes in 2011

Having said that, defending champion Jorge Lorenzo has shown no signs of slowing down after his record-breaking first MotoGP crown.

The Yamaha's M1 engine is not quite matching the Honda in top speed but it is still a very strong package and Lorenzo has already shown what he can do with it.

It is his title to lose but he will definitely find it a lot harder to win races as easily and as often as he did last year.

One of his biggest challengers will be team-mate Ben Spies, who has opted to keep the wall in the Yamaha factory garage that was put up to separate Lorenzo and Rossi.

The American created a lot of excitement with podiums and pole positions in his rookie year and he will certainly be expecting to be on the top step of the podium a good few times this year.

I also expect to see Alvaro Bautista pushing higher up the order this year. After a torrid year for the Rizla Suzuki Team, in which they lost half their garage, all the focus, money and development will be on Bautista making the GSV-R his own.

The good news for British fans is that there are eight British riders to follow across the classes this year.

Cal Crutchlow follows in the footsteps of James Toseland and Spies, entering MotoGP from World Superbikes by way of Herve Poncharal's Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Team.

The 25-year-old Crutchlow is on a two-year deal and will need the first year to gain experience. It will be hard for him against the big boys but he has a good attitude and an experienced team around him.

With the BBC continuing coverage of the 125cc and Moto2 classes on the Red button, you can follow the other seven Brits in what should be an exciting season in both categories.

Danny Kent in action
Danny Kent will be hoping to improve on his displays from last year

The Moto2 class provided some spectacular racing last year, with 17 different riders on the podium in 2010, and I think we will see more of that this year.

There are a lot of potential title contenders in this category but Briton Scott Redding should be one of them. He is already looking like carrying the momentum generated at the end of last year into pre-season testing. The 18-year-old is also involved in the development of the Suter MMX, so it is a bike that he is getting more and more comfortable with.

You cannot rule out Bradley Smith either - he is new to the category but has been improving rapidly in the Moto2 tests so far and has experience in challenging for wins and podiums.

The 600cc machines will suit his size better than 125cc, so I think we could see him pushing for those top places.

Then you have Scot Kev Coghlan, who comes over from the CEV Moto2 championship. He is still riding an FTR, which he has helped develop, and has experience on some of the GP tracks.

In the 125cc category, "veteran" rider Danny Webb will take the confidence from his career-best finish in 2010 into this year, riding with a new team and helping to develop the bike.

Danny Kent will be one to watch out for, riding for one of Aki Ajo's teams. Kent had an incredible season in the Red Bull Rookies Cup last year, pipped to the title on the last lap of the last race before showing some impressive displays in his subsequent five wildcard 125cc entries.

Making up the four Brits in this class will be Taylor Mackenzie, son of ex-500cc rider Niall and a man with a great sense of humour, and Harry Stafford. Both have experience at GP tracks as Rookies Cup graduates.

I think we are going to see some close racing and fantastic battles across all three classes this year and our Brits will no doubt give us something to cheer about.

See you in Qatar!



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see also
Honda trio lead the way in Sepang
02 Feb 11 |  MotoGP
MotoGP calendar 2011
15 Mar 11 |  MotoGP
Ferrari & Ducati's 2011 launch
14 Jan 11 |  Motorsport
Matt Roberts to present MotoGP
08 Feb 11 |  MotoGP
Rossi admits struggle for fitness
11 Jan 11 |  MotoGP
Lorenzo ends season with victory
07 Nov 10 |  MotoGP


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