2011 MotoGP Motegi Results

Comedy of errors at an emotional Japanese Grand Prix

Strange things often occur when you take a group of hypercompetitive young men and set them on extremely high-powered racing bikes. Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix featured three false starts, five significant crashes, four additional run-offs, and several catastrophes narrowly averted. But at the end of the day, not much had changed in the 2011 championship standings. Incidentally, Dani Pedrosa won the race.

Let’s not forget that Japan is still suffering the effects of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis that struck the country in March. Industrial production has been hammered, people are still improvising housing arrangements, and unemployment has increased significantly. Components of the food supply have been tainted by radiation. The electrical grid remains a shambles, with huge questions facing the people concerning their ongoing reliance on nuclear power. Nonetheless, almost 35,000 hardy souls made their way to Motegi for the three MotoGP races today. In the premier class tilt, they certainly got their money’s worth.

After much hemming and hawing, MotoGP finally arrived at Motegi to give a much needed boost to the spirits of the Japanese.

Several riders had more than the usual motivation as they lined up on the grid. San Carlo Gresini #2 Hiro Aoyama desperately wanted to have a good outing in front of his stalwart home fans. Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo needed to beat rival Casey Stoner like a rented mule in order to get back into the championship hunt. Andrea Dovizioso, the Rodney Dangerfield of the Repsol team, craved a stick-it-in-their-eye win in front of the Honda brass. Alvaro Bautista focused on a podium finish that might convince Suzuki to remain in MotoGP in 2012. And Valentino Rossi wanted to show the Japanese manufacturers that he was still The Doctor, and hadn’t lost his ability to mount the steps to the podium.

As it turned out, all were disappointed, some more so than others.

The riders had many different motivations for doing well at Motegi. Racing for the fans was a common motivator for all.

Monkey See, Monkey Do at the Start

Apparently, MotoGP riders aren’t much different at the start of a race than you and I in rush hour traffic. Rather than watching the traffic lights, we often focus on the vehicle in front of us, and we go when he goes. Such appeared to be the case today, as the riders on the inside of rows one, two and four – Dovizioso, Simoncelli and Cal Crutchlow – all jumped the start. (Alvaro Bautista, on row three, had other things on his mind.)  All three were ordered to complete ride-throughs. Ironically, Dovizioso, he of the massive motivation, was leading the race when ordered through pit row, and might have actually won today. (His day would get even worse later in the afternoon.)

Andrea Dovizioso (4) and Marco Simoncelli (58), as well as Cal Crutchlow all jumped the start and were assessed ride-through penalties. Photo by GEPA Pictures.

Rossi, starting from the seven-hole, had blood in his eye at the start. In turn two, he tried to go through on Lorenzo, but didn’t have sufficient room. He bumped the Spaniard, lost the front and nearly removed Ben Spies from the proceedings in the process of crashing out. Spies maintained control of his M1, but his resulting walkabout was sufficiently lengthy as to put him in 17th place by the time he rejoined the race. Lorenzo kept his balance and position, but Rossi’s day was over. As was any faint hope he held of catching Spies for fifth place in the 2011 championship.

Musical Chairs at the Front

Meanwhile, in front of all this mess, Stoner and Pedrosa hummed merrily along, with the Australian, fresh off his tenth pole of the year, looking untouchable. Pedrosa was pedaling hard in second place, but it looked like the calm, consistent Stoner was on his way to another easy win. Trouble found him on lap four, as he experienced a significant wobble heading into the acutely-angled turn five, causing him to release his grip on the brake. He quickly regained control, grabbed the brake again, found nothing there, and went walkabout himself, only avoiding a disastrous crash by the narrowest of margins. He returned to the asphalt in seventh place, furious with himself.

Casey Stoner missed an opportunity to pad his championship lead over Jorge Lorenzo. Photo by GEPA Pictures.

All of which left Pedrosa leading the race, trailed by Lorenzo, who was unable to mount a serious challenge for the rest of the day. Eventually, the top six starters all finished back in the top six. Stoner would find his way back to third place, while Spies worked hellishly all day for a sixth place finish. Dovizioso and Simoncelli, having completed their penalties, resurfaced in a grudge match for fourth place that took up the last third of the race. The crowning frustration for Dovizioso came on lap 23, when Simoncelli finally went through on him. Along with potentially losing his factory ride, Dovizioso had to suffer the disgrace of another late-in-the-day pass at the hands of the despised Sideshow Bob.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Despite having the suits from Suzuki corporate strongly suggest they will not field a MotoGP team in 2012, Alvaro Bautista put on a great show today, spending much of the day in fourth place. His high speed lowside on lap 14 had to hurt, in more ways than one.

There's a lot of uncertainty over 2012 in the Rizla Suzuki garage.

Aspar Ducati pilot Hector Barbera was taken off on a stretcher after a crash on lap two. It was reported he had suffered a broken collarbone, and was “doubtful” for next week’s race in Australia. (Colin Edwards collected a podium at Silverstone a week after fracturing his own collarbone at Catalunya, so “doubtful”, in this case, may actually mean “doubtful”).

Karel Abraham, after qualifying 15th yesterday, bailed on today’s race, complaining of concussion-like symptoms. It was okay, though, in that he had a note from his dad.

Damian Cudlin, subbing for the injured Loris Capirossi on the Pramac team, was living the dream, running in front of the two Honda test riders, when he crashed out on lap 14. Hope you enjoyed your 15 seconds, mate.

Nicky Hayden finished the race in seventh, sandwiched between fellow Americans Ben Spies and Colin Edwards.

Nicky Hayden went walkabout immediately after getting rudely shoved off his line by the recovering Stoner. Letting his temper get the best of him, the Kentucky Kid, chasing Stoner, went into the next corner white hot and spent some time in the gravel, ultimately finishing seventh.

The Big Picture

Despite gaining four points today, Lorenzo is now reduced to playing the role of spoiler. If he manages to stay within nine points of Stoner next week at Phillip Island, he will deprive the Australian of the pleasure of winning the 2011 title at home. Today’s win brought Pedrosa to within a single point of the depressed third place Dovizioso, making it all but certain the Spaniard will claim third place for the year, despite having missed four contests.

Casey Stoner has a chance to clinch the 2011 MotoGP Championship at his home race at Phillip Island. Photo by GEPA Pictures.

Marco Simoncelli has now closed to within four points of Nicky Hayden in the heated battle for seventh place, and looks like he’ll overtake the American before season’s end. Early in the season, Marco was getting worked regularly at the end of races. More recently, he’s been the one doing the overtaking, having apparently received a significant cosmic promotion from punkee to punker. Comes along with getting the third factory Honda for 2012, I guess.

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