During practice this weekend, it appeared that Repsol’s defending world champion Casey Stoner was preparing to enjoy his fifth consecutive premier class win on Spanish soil. Other than FP2, which he mailed in, he was quick all weekend, and qualified on the pole for the second time this year.
At the start, he and teammate Pedrosa essentially traded spots, Dani rocketing from fifth to first while Stoner got caught in traffic and fell back to sixth. Had this occurred last season, we might have spent the day watching the Australian eventually claw his way back up into the lead. But the 2012 lame duck only made it back as far as fourth place, finishing off the podium for the first time since having been unseated by Ducati’s Valentino Rossi last year in Jerez.
Taking Stoner’s usual place on the podium today, instead, was Tech 3 Yamaha pilot Andrea Dovizioso, for his first rostrum with Yamaha and the first by a satellite rider since Marco Simoncelli’s second place finish last year at Phillip Island. Dovi’s teammate Cal Crutchlow worked hard all day, dogging Stoner for most of it, but was unable to go through into fourth, and now trails Dovizioso for the season by four points. Today’s ride, it would seem, elevates Dovizioso to the top spot in the race to take over a Honda or Yamaha factory ride for 2013. At least for the moment.
Ben Spies Shows Brief Signs of Life. Very Brief.
Lorenzo’s Yamaha teammate Ben Spies is in the midst of a dreadful season, one that could eventually lead him to the unemployment lines, further burdening the social safety net in cash-strapped Britain. As has become his custom this year, he assured everyone interviewing him this week that Catalunya was the place he would turn it all around. Sure enough, he qualified fourth, jumped into second place at the start, and went through on Pedrosa to take the lead on Lap 3. He enjoyed this lofty position for roughly half a second, immediately running wide and ending up in the gravel on his way to another dismal 10th place finish.
In hindsight, we must consider the possibility that Team Yamaha jumped the gun in promoting the likeable Spies to the factory team last year after his impressive 2010 campaign with Tech 3. 2011 was a Tale of Two Seasons for the Texan – a terrible first half followed by a much-improved second. This year, he was expected to assume Alien status; instead, he has gone from good to bad to worse. Several of Yamaha’s Japanese executives were at today’s race, probably to examine Ben’s performance from up close. If so, he may have impressed them with his courage and determination, likely to no avail. The brass want results for their money, not character recommendations.
Elsewhere on the Grid
Not too many surprises out there today, as the race final matches up closely with the season’s standings. Check it out the top 11 finishers today:
|Pos.||Catalunya Top 11||Current Top 11 Standings|
|1||Jorge Lorenzo||Jorge Lorenzo|
|2||Dani Pedrosa||Casey Stoner|
|3||Andrea Dovizioso||Dani Pedrosa|
|4||Casey Stoner||Andrea Dovizioso|
|5||Cal Crutchlow||Cal Crutchlow|
|6||Alvaro Bautista||Valentino Rossi|
|7||Valentino Rossi||Alvaro Bautista|
|8||Stefan Bradl||Stefan Bradl|
|9||Nicky Hayden||Nicky Hayden|
|10||Ben Spies||Hector Barbera|
|11||Hector Barbera||Ben Spies|
As for the Claiming Rule Teams, Aleix Espargaro was again the top finisher, putting him alone at the top of the junior league.
It may be worth noting that Cardion AB jetsetter Karel Abraham Jr. scored his first points of the season today with a scintillating 12th place finish, roughly 20 seconds behind Hector Barbera and only 12 seconds ahead of Espargaro. Abraham still trails five CRT riders on his Ducati prototype. Maybe Karel Sr., who owns the Czech Republic’s Brno circuit as well as his own soccer team, should try to talk his son into trading the paddock for the pitch next season. Seems as if this whole 200 mph on two wheels thing has lost its luster for the young playboy.
I’m Just Sayin’ …
In what is becoming my usual Casey Stoner segment, it appears that his retirement announcement has dulled his competitive edge. Notice how, prior to the announcement, Stoner had a fluke third in Qatar and two wins. Since then, a third in the rain in France followed by today’s head-scratcher. Clearly, it’s a little early to be drawing meaningful conclusions from any of this. But when was the last time you can recall Stoner loafing through a practice session the way he did FP2 on Friday? And when can you recall a performance like today, in which a perfect setup and conditions resulted in a finish off the podium?
The Big Picture
Jorge Lorenzo now enjoys a 20 point margin over Stoner for the 2012 championship, while Pedrosa now trails the Australian by only 10. Many of us presumed Stoner would have an easy time repeating his 2011 title, but such is not the case. It may be safe to say, after only five rounds, that the 2012 title is now Lorenzo’s to lose. What is certain is that Yamaha has adapted to the 1000cc standard more readily than has Honda, this despite the travails of Ben Spies.
Dovizioso and Crutchlow continue their cage match for fourth place, a battle that must warm the heart of team owner Herve Poncharal while simultaneously giving him nightmares. Congratulations to the Monster Tech 3 team on an immensely successful 2012 campaign thus far, as they continue to show their pipes to the factory Ducati team of Rossi and Nicky Hayden. Along with Gresini Honda’s Bautista and consensus rookie of the year Stefan Bradl, the factory Ducati riders will fight all year over the scraps of finishing sixth for the season. And of the four, only Bradl can feel very good about sharing such company.
The grid returns to Silverstone in two weeks for the British Grand Prix, which will probably be cold and wet. Lorenzo can approach this one without much pressure. And Stoner, apparently, doesn’t feel much pressure to dominate the proceedings, if his performance today was any indication. Pedrosa, Dovizioso and Crutchlow will be feeling it, however, especially CC, who will be racing in front of his homeboys. So will James Ellison and the Paul Bird Motorsports team, for that matter, although with much less at stake.
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