It’s not only MotoGP’s main classes that are in action this weekend, following the volcano induced long break since the season opener at Qatar… I’m also kind of excited because Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup kicks off its 2010 season in Jerez this weekend as part of the Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez. With practice on Friday and a race both on Saturday May 1st and on Sunday May 2nd it is a crucial double header for all 25 of the sport’s fastest racing teenagers.
It is certainly a baptism of fire for those who are first timers as with more than 100,000 spectators packing the Jerez grandstands the atmosphere created is that of a soccer cup final. It is a huge leap for those first time Rookies who previously may have been watched mainly by family and friends.
The pressure of the situation gives the advantage to the ‘old hands’ like Daniel Ruiz who has just turned 18. As the senior Rookie in his 3rd season he is determined to claim his first race win. From Pamplona in north eastern Spain Ruiz was a very good performer last season and crossed the line 2nd in the British round in Donington in 2009 but just could not claim the top podium step or the consistency that would see him a threat for the Cup overall.
Ruiz will doubtless make the best of this season, he is intelligent enough to have learnt well from the last two years and was thrilled to find himself truly comfortable in the wet at the pre-season Valencia test, something that has been a problem in the past. Overall he was 3rd fastest at the end of the 3 days.
Fastest in Valencia was Japanese 15 year old Daijiro Hiura. He goes into his 3rd Rookie season as one of the strong favourites, he was 3rd in the Cup last year thanks to finishing on the podium in half of the 8 races but he failed to match the win he recorded in Portugal back in 2008. To take this year’s Cup he will need to regain that winning secret and avoid the first race crash he suffered in Jerez last year after setting off from pole.
Second fastest at the test and the winner of race 2 at Jerez last year was Danny Kent (pictured). The 16 year old Briton was 4th in last year’s Cup and another very strong favourite for success this season. He knows that to take the Cup he will need more than that single race victory and having shown the ability to score pole times in practice last year will now have to convert them into wins.
Hiura, Kent and Ruiz are the experienced trio that headed the Valencia test and must be favourites for Jerez success but there is another name that should be put with them and that is Jake Gagne. The 16 year old Californian crashed on day one of the test, not a dramatic accident but when his ankle got caught between the swing arm and rear wheel it got wrenched so badly that the swelling prevented any further riding for the week.
With nothing broken he will be fit enough for Jerez and in a great position to step up from the string of podium finishes he scored in the 2nd half of last season; gaining him 6th in the 2009 Cup. His learning curve through ’09 was certainly impressive and a direct continuation of his 2008 progress in the Red Bull AMA U.S. Rookies Cup. There he went from motocrosser and complete road race novice to race winner in a single season.
So Gagne makes it 4 obvious favourites to watch out for. There are another 21 Rookies that are determined to upset that form book. The best of those at the Valencia test was 4th placed Brad Binder. The 14 year old South African goes into his 2nd Rookies season fired up; not least because he has grown enough to be racing without the weight ballast that he so hated last year.
Fellow countryman, 17 year old Mathew Scholtz is starting his 3rd Rookies year and after winning a race in his debut season was a little frustrated with 2009. Two 2nd places were his best results and he just could not turn his very obvious speed into consistent results. Last year’s opening race in Jerez saw the Springbok charge away from the start at a pace that made it look as though he was in a race of his own. An off track excursion put him back in the pack, he ended the weekend with a 2nd and a 7th, a variation that became the theme of his year.
Scholtz was not thrilled to be only 8th fastest at the Valencia test and should in no way be counted out for this year’s Cup. Less than a tenth faster at the test was 1st year Rookie Alan Techer. The 15 year old Frenchman could well get amongst the established Rookies right from the start this year even though he has never raced at Jerez before.
Techer is unfazed by the situation but will have to contend with the likes of 14 year old Spaniard Xavier Figueras and 16 year old Briton Harry Stafford who were 5th and 6th fastest in Valencia, Xavier heads into his 2nd Rookies season and Harry his 3rd.
With the 4th Rookies Cup season starting the action throughout the race weekend can be followed on Twitter with more detailed stories and background info on the main Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup website at www.redbullrookiescup.com
Here’s to another great season. And good luck in particular to Danny Kent. Go for it Danny!