Things, as it turned out, went Lorenzo’s way all day. His crew, with only the morning’s warm-up practice to put in wet settings, dialed in his M1 perfectly, allowing him to take the early lead. Repsol Honda’s swarthy pole-sitting Spaniard, Dani Pedrosa, appeared unable to cope with the weather conditions and faded at the start. Stoner, having been lightning quick all weekend, seemed willing to settle for sloppy seconds; perhaps this was a side-effect of the decision to retire at the absolute top of his game. And Tech 3 Yamaha pilot Andrea Dovizioso, having podiumed in France for the last three years, crashed out with two laps left. At the end of the day, Lorenzo won by almost 10 seconds in a crushing performance.
Of more interest and excitement to the 80,000 French fans in attendance was the masterful performance of Valentino Rossi on the factory Ducati. Since joining the Italian manufacturer at the start of last year, Rossi has been a mere shadow of his once dominating self, with one podium – a third at last year’s French GP – to show for his labors.
Rossi had prayed for rain today, and the gods, clearly upset with Stoner, not only granted his wish, but provided it in abundance, along with a set-up that allowed him to move from seventh to fourth position on the first lap. Looking like his old Yamaha self, Rossi spent the day jousting with Pedrosa, Dovizioso, Cal Crutchlow (on the other Tech 3 Yamaha), and Stoner himself. Finally, in a flashback to 2009, Rossi punked Stoner on the last lap to steal second place and restore a little luster to the tarnished Ducati, and Rossi, names. Not to mention throwing his many fans in the crowd into paroxysms of joy.
A Podium for the Ages
And so today’s podium, for once, had some historical significance. It included machines from all three of the classic MotoGP manufacturers – a Yamaha, a Honda and a Ducati. It included the three most dominant riders of the past decade, winners of every MotoGP championship (save one, Nicky Hayden’s in 2006) since 2002.
Watching the three of them spray champagne all over one another, my imagination was playing tricks on me, as Stoner looked almost semi-transparent, as if he is preparing to exit the space-time continuum. Watch this space for plenty more about Casey’s alleged (or first) retirement in the weeks to come.
Elsewhere on the Grid
The two Monster Tech 3 Yamahas, piloted by Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow, have appeared joined at the wrists and ankles since Qatar. Alas, their string of consecutive 4-5 finishes came to an end today, as both riders lost the front in the rain, slid off, re-started their bikes, and re-entered the fray, with Dovi ending up 7th and Crutchlow 8th. Still joined at the wrists and ankles, just a little farther back on the grid.
Dani Pedrosa, as mentioned above, finished an uninspired fourth. Rookie Stefan Bradl on the LCR Honda had another superlative outing, finishing 5th for his best-yet race result on the big bikes. And aging Ducati pilot Nicky Hayden managed to stay upright long enough to finish 6th without, to my memory, going through on anyone all day. Pramac Ducati’s Hector Barbera finished an unobtrusive 9th, while San Marco Honda’s Alvaro Bautista, cementing his reputation of being lousy in the rain, finished 10th.
The two prototype riders left peering into the abyss today were soon-to-be-ex- factory Yamaha rider Ben Spies and Cardion AB’s Karel Abraham. Abraham called it a day today on Lap 10, for no apparent reason other than perhaps not enjoying himself too much in the rain. Spies, who started from the six-hole, showed signs of life during weekend practices, instilling some faint hope among his fans. But when the lights went out and the race started, he came within a whisker of crashing in the first two seconds, had several run-offs and near run-offs, and ended up with a season-worst 16th place finish. If you listen carefully, you can hear a dog howling in the distance. Dark days, indeed, for the Texas Terror.
Beau Temps pour les Canards
“Nice weather for ducks,” as the French fans of homeboy Randy de Puniet might have said about today’s conditions. RDP had one of the worst days ever for a rider in front of his home fans. Making the best of of his Power Electronics Aspar CRT situation, de Puniet qualified in the fourth row. Anxious to get out to a quick start, he managed to travel approximately six feet before trashing his #1 bike. Merde.
Immediately, his team broomed what was left of #1 into the garage and rolled out bike #2, upon which Randy set his bum and took off. (Whether this was a legal maneuver or not, we don’t know, but are under the impression a rider needs to complete at least one lap before changing bikes.) No matter. De Puniet crashed again on Lap 22. MERDE! Lacking a third bike to ruin, he retired for the day.
The Big Picture
With today’s win, Jorge Lorenzo moves from being down one point to Stoner to being up eight, heading back to Spain in two weeks. Pedrosa, Crutchlow and Dovizioso maintain their respective grips on third through fifth positions. Rossi, on the strength of his 20 points today, moves from ninth to sixth, only two points behind fellow Italian Dovizioso.
Bradl and Bautista are tied with 35 points, with Hayden and Barbera rounding out the top ten. Thanks goodness for Karel Abraham, without whom Ben Spies would be the lowest-standing prototype rider. If you saw 2012 shaping up the way it has for poor Ben, please raise your hand.
Finally, a Heart-WarmerLast week we observed what a brutal season James Ellison has been enduring on the Paul Bird Motorsports ART bike. Things got so bad a few weeks ago that Bird himself began floating trial balloons about changing riders, specifically mentioning Shane Byrne as a possible wild card at some point. Imagine the string of British-accented invective from Ellison that must have greeted this news, after which all mention of Byrne promptly died away. Today, Ellison collected his first five MotoGP points since 2006 with his respectable 11th at Le Mans as the top CRT finisher on the grid. You GO, James!
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