In the practices leading up to today’s race, it appeared that Stoner was well off his normal game. Though he had the third fastest lap in FP1, the best he could manage in FP2 was 10th; in FP3 he finished 6th after a huge high side in the wet. The qualifying practice on Friday was remarkable, as Stoner was loitering in 9th position when rain interrupted things, sending everyone back to their garages. With less than five minutes remaining in the session, the sun came back out, the bikes re-entered the track, and Stoner appeared to have been fired out of a howitzer. He warmed up his tires on the first lap, and then jumped into third place on the second go-around. His third and final lap was a blur, and launched him onto the pole in front of Pedrosa and Lorenzo.
Stoner’s QP had me thinking about Marco Simoncelli in 2011. Sic had a habit of laying down one extremely fast qualifying lap and starting from the front row of the grid. From there, he generally crashed out or destroyed his tires, typically finishing worse than he started. The first turn incident today, with Bautista playing the part of the reckless amateur, was under investigation by Race Direction immediately, and we’ll surely hear more about it later this week. All we know at this moment is that Lorenzo’s comfortable lead in the 2012 championship is history.
Okay, but What about the Race?
Pedrosa and Stoner were running in front of Lorenzo exiting turn one, and headed off together into the wild blue yonder. Though the rest of the field avoided the mishap, poor Cal Crutchlow ran so slow and wide doing so that he fell back into 13th position. (This reminded me of the day in 6th grade when, standing in the lunch line, the girl in front of me threw up on the linoleum, causing me to bail, losing roughly six places and missing out entirely on the Apple Brown Betty.) Cal then spent the rest of the afternoon cursing his luck, finally clawing his way back into a respectable fifth place finish. Being interviewed after the race, he used adult language to describe Bautista’s act, which you can catch on my blog.
Yamaha pilots Ben Spies and Andrea Dovizioso settled into a daylong battle for the third podium spot. Spies sits precariously on the second factory bike, a seat hugely coveted by the Italian on his satellite M1. Both riders are closers, and they battled through 25 laps. At some point late in the race, Dovizioso went through on Spies to claim third place. I say “some point” because those of us viewing the race from places other than the grandstand were unaccountably forced to watch Stoner drifting around by himself, blowing kisses to the crowd, rather than the two Yamaha rivals trading paint vying for a podium.
A gaggle of riders coalesced into the third group fighting for fifth position. Comprised of the three Ducati riders that actually started the race (Karel Abraham had a note from his dad excusing him today) and Crutchlow, it had to be revolting for the suits from Bologna to watch as the Brit methodically picked off first Hector Barbera on Lap 12, then Valentino Rossi on Lap 14, and finally Nicky Hayden on Lap 15. (Now that Crutchlow has unofficially been offered a contract to ride for the factory Ducati team next year, he has to be wondering about the wisdom of such a move. The Desmosedici has the power and technology to turn former world champions into also-rans. What will it do to the career of a promising rider who has never won a single MotoGP race?)
You Mentioned Something about a Demolition Derby ...
When you have three CRT bikes finish in the Top 10, something’s up:
In a shout out to the Paul Bird Motorsports team, discussed at some length recently in this space, it should be noted that Vale Rossi lost a chunk of his rear tire around Lap 20. He entered his garage, dismounted, had the team brew up an espresso con latte while they replaced the rear tire, enjoyed his coffee, rejoined the race, and STILL finished in front of James Ellison. I so can’t wait to have TWO mopes from Bird’s team to jeer at next season.
The Big Picture
Today’s result finds Stoner and Lorenzo tied at the top of the food chain, with Pedrosa sullenly lurking, 19 points back, despite still not having won a race all year. Crutchlow now leads Dovizioso by a single point in their personal Tech 3 battle for fourth place. With Bautista and Bradl getting blanked today, Nicky Hayden climbed into seventh, a mere two points behind teammate Rossi. Ben Spies, with his best finish (4th place) of the year, now moves into the Top Ten, his “underachiever” tag firmly in place. Barbera and Abraham bring up the rear of the prototypes. In CRT land, Randy de Puniet now trails teammate Espargaro by a single point in the battle for the second division lead.
Jorge Lorenzo’s bad luck today may, in fact, be worse than it appears. Immediately after the crash, he was running back to his bike, hoping to rejoin the race, when the engine went up in a cloud of white smoke comparable to what you see at The Vatican when they elect a new pope. If this was a new engine, as the announcers were speculating, it puts added pressure on the Spaniard regarding the six-engine rule. As if he needs additional pressure now, with Stoner all up in his business again.
On to The Sachsenring
Eight days until Round 8 in Germany. Expect attendance at this year’s German Grand Prix to skyrocket, now that there’s a local boy, Stefan Bradl, in the mix. With three races in three weeks, any technical development of the bikes is on hold, meaning “the state of the bikes” entering this weekend will remain unchanged through Mugello. For the factory teams and Tech 3 Yamaha, which operates like a factory team, this is no problem. For the others, it means holding on for dear life until Laguna Seca in late July.
Three riders in particular have a lot on their minds tonight. Valentino Rossi must determine what he’ll be doing for the next few years, as the rule changes implemented this weekend preclude him from switching to Yamaha or Honda beginning in 2013 without some mind-bending disruption of the status quo; there will be no fifth privateer Yamaha or Honda for The Doctor next year. The second rider with a major headache today is Colin Edwards, who is on the verge of calling it a career and pulling the plug on his CRT experiment, a sad failure on a number of different levels. We will miss his skill, honesty and humor, and wish him all the best.
Then there’s Alvaro Bautista, the fair-haired boy whose star appeared to be rising, until today. Though his team and owner Fausto Gresini will undoubtedly defend him publicly, his actions today suggest a low racing IQ, a charge being simultaneously leveled at Hector Barbera from several quarters. Bautista has accomplished more since moving up from the 250cc class than has Barbera, but both need to get a lot smarter if they want to avoid being sent down to the minors.
MotoGP and other Professional Competition coverage