Just days after the final race of the 2012 season, Valencia played host to the first of the 2013 preseason tests and gave fans, media and competitors their first glimpses of the new machines and riders.
Of course we cannot look at next year’s grid without first noting the glaring omission of Casey Stoner. The young Australian shocked the racing world earlier this year when he announced his retirement at just 27 years old. Having started his career back in the British 125cc championships, Casey is without a doubt one of the fastest riders to ever race on two wheels and his premature departure is a huge loss to the sport.
Stoner’s departure left a gaping hole in the Repsol Honda camp, the most coveted ride in the world, and threw the rider market into overdrive. Could Honda snatch Lorenzo from Yamaha? Would Rossi return? In the end it was the abolishment of the rookie rule which paved the way for arguably the most talented young rider in Grand Prix, Marc Marquez. His progress will be followed very closely by race fans next year as he is certain to impress. Dani Pedrosa will stay for yet another term in the Repsol camp and having racked up more wins than other rider in 2012 he is sure to be a title favourite.
Yamaha have secured champion Lorenzo for a further two years, while a disastrous year for Texan Ben Spies has seen him jump ship and move to the Pramac Ducati team, leaving the door open for Yamaha’s prodigal son and firm fan favourite Valentino Rossi to return. After two dreadful years at Ducati which yielded just three podiums, ‘The Doctors’ performance will be under intense speculation as his legions of follows hope he’ll re-find his winning ways. Uncharacteristically he was one of the first out of pit lane on the first day of testing and completed the most laps – so there’s no doubting his hunger.
Filling Vale’s shoes at Ducati is fellow Italian Andrea Dovizioso, who had a fantastic year on the Tech 3 Yamaha. With this being his third manufacturer in as many years, his knowledge could be crucial in turning the Bologna factory’s fortunes around, especially with the help of Audi who recently purchased them. Nicky Hayden will remain in red for a fifth season while joining Spies in the Pramac Ducati squad, who have become a new ‘junior’ team and will receive direct help from the factory, is Italian Andrea Iannone, making his debut in the premier class.
After years of waiting, Cal Crutchlow secured Britain’s first premier class podium since Jeremy McWilliams in 2000. After a tough debut year in 2011 many believed Cal would, like Hodgson and Toseland, tread the now worn path a couple of tough years in GP before returning to Superbikes. Yet he was a revelation this year, claiming two podiums and regularly challenging Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Stoner. Joining him in the Tech 3 Monster Yamaha squad is fellow Brit and class rookie Bradley Smith who’s moving up from Moto2.
The two satellite Hondas remain unchanged as Alvaro Bautista stays with the Gresini team, however title sponsor San Carlo have left and Go & Fun energy drink take over, while German Stefan Bradl will remain with Lucio Cecchinello in the LCR squad. The CRT class continues for 2013 with leading rider Aleix Espargaro remaining with Aspar alongside Randy de Puniet. Colin Edwards Forward Racing team switch from BMW to Kawasaki while also using ninja engines are the Avintia riders of Barbera and Aoyama. Karel Abraham’s Cardion AB team leave Ducati and take up the CRT challenge with Aprilia while Danilo Petrucci will compete for the Came IodaRacing squad.
With a handful of CRT machines still to be announced, including the Paul Bird team who look likely to have the current British Superbike Champion Shane ‘Shakey Byrne onboard, the 2013 championship looks set to be just as exciting.