Nicky Hayden - Repsol Honda
2006 Championship Position: 1st
2006 Wins: 2
2006 Podiums: 10
Strengths: Consistency, Development, Starts
Weaknesses: Qualifying, Aggression
The defending champion will have a very tough title defense on his hands. He missed the first test of the season because of a surgery to repair a broken shoulder blade and a previous collar bone injury. For the season opener he is almost fully healthy but has not done outstanding in the preseason tests. Typically this preseason he has been the second fastest Honda behind his teammate, Dani Pedrosa.
In the early going this season his challenge will be to get the RC212V performing to his liking soon enough to get results and stay in the title chase. This season he probably will not have the benefit of a few Rossi DNF's* so he will have to be more aggressive. If he wants to defend his crown he will not only have to the develop the RC212V but he will have to win more races.
Dani Pedrosa - Repsol Honda
2006 Championship Position: 5th
2006 Wins: 2
2006 Podiums: 8
Strengths: Race speed, qualifying
Weaknesses: RAIN RIDING!, overtaking, mental toughness
2007 will be Dani's sophomore year and many think he will challenge for the title in a major way. Thus far in testing he has been the fastest Honda rider and has been the fastest on qualifying tires at several of the tests.
Pedrosa's big challenge will be to not get rattled by either aggressive, intimidating riding by his competitors nor the mind games of his main rival, Valentino Rossi. Last year on more than one occasion Pedrosa showed a bit of mental weakness when responding to the other riders and no one will be keener to capitalize on this than Rossi.
An even bigger problem for Pedrosa may be his rain riding. In the one wet race last season at Philip Island Dani got lapped by the leaders in the race in what can only be described as an embarassing performance. The encouraging news is that even 5-time Moto GP champion Valentino Rossi was a bad wet rider at one time so Dani can definitely improve as well.
Marco Melandri - Gresini Honda
2006 Championship Position: 4th
2006 Wins: 3
2006 Podiums: 6
Strengths: Race speed, rain riding
Weaknesses: Development, consistency
After finishing second to Rossi in 2005 in his first season on a satellite Honda Melandri was expected to be a legit title challenger for 2006. He won 3 races in 2006, but was injured in a massive first corner pileup at the Catalunya GP. He was also somewhat inconsistent, even after coming back from his injury. He had problems with his crew chief and eventually switched crew chiefs before the end of the season.
In the 2006 preseason he had the option of riding the 'Evo' RC211V like Nicky Hayden's. He declined at the time but in doing so missed out on the opportunity to develop a new bike. Development experience is a very valuable weapon in the Moto GP paddock and will be critical in getting the new RC212V dialed in. Marco has the additional obstacle of adjusting to Bridgestone tires. For him to have a shot at the championship he will have to take a significant step forward with his technical skills.
Toni Elias - Gresini Honda
2006 Championship Position: 9th
2006 Wins: 1
2006 Podiums: 1
Shinya Nakano - Konica Minolta Honda
2006 Championship Position: 14th
2006 Highest Finishing Position: 2nd
2006 Podiums: 1
Carlos Checa - LCR Honda
2006 Championship Position: 15th
2006 Highest Finishing Position: 7th
Kenny Roberts Jr - Team KR Honda
2006 Championship Position: 6th
2006 Highest Finishing Position: 3rd
*DNF: Did Not Finish the race