2012 MotoGP Qatar Results
Lorenzo, Yamaha draw first blood in 2012
Under a waning full moon in the feudal kingdom of Qatar, the 2012 MotoGP season opener saw Jorge Lorenzo deliver some payback for the entire previous year. Defending champion Casey Stoner and his Honda RC213V were considered unbeatable heading into the race, and maintained that appearance for the first 19 laps. But Lorenzo, looking eerily like the smooth, well-oiled machine that dominated the grid in 2010, went through on Stoner late in the game and never looked back. Round One to the Spaniard.
Other than Stoner’s presumed domination, few things looked certain heading up to tonight’s green flag. Factory Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa enjoyed a miserable qualifying practice and started from the seven hole. Cal Crutchlow, on the satellite Tech 3 Yamaha, became the first Brit to start a MotoGP race from the front row since James Toseland did it here in 2008. (Toseland would go on to finish 11th that year.) Lorenzo’s teammate Ben Spies turned his bike over twice in practice. And former icon Valentino Rossi was the last of the four Ducati riders to qualify, barely edging out Colin Edwards and his Suter BMW CRT bike.
The race started uneventfully, with Lorenzo and Stoner in the early lead. Crutchlow and Pedrosa exchanged spots during the first two turns, placing the world back on its axis. Ben Spies, perhaps feeling the effects of his practice mishaps, began falling back from the get-go and would eventually finish 11th, scant seconds in front of Edwards. As expected, three of the four Aliens began to pull away from the field. Once the tires were warm, Stoner went through on Lorenzo on lap 4 with Pedrosa in third place, and the three of them maintained this order for the next 15 laps.
Monster Tech 3 Yamaha is HOT
While all of this was going on up front, the best contest of the night materialized in the fight for fourth place between Tech 3 Yamaha teammates Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso. Dovi ended up on a satellite Yamaha for 2012 after being shown the door by Repsol Honda last year, prior to the fateful race in Sepang in which Marco Simoncelli lost his life. Had Dovizioso held on, or out, a bit longer, he surely would have ended up on the San Marco Gresini factory-backed Honda. Whatever. Dovizioso is determined to return to a factory ride next year, and would seem to have his eyes on Ben Spies’ seat. Tonight’s contest did little to diminish his prospects.
Dovizioso led Crutchlow for the entire race, but never by more than a few
yards meters. Time after time, the Brit lined up his teammate, only to be thwarted by Dovi, who is notoriously difficult to pass. Finally, on lap 17, Crutchlow went through and made it stick, giving him a fourth place finish and a moral victory, if there is such a thing in MotoGP. This appears to be one of those wonderful MotoGP teammate rivalries in progress; perhaps we’ll see a wall in the Tech 3 garage before season’s end. Strangely, if Spies has a bad year, it could actually be Crutchlow taking his spot on the factory team.
Our Correspondent’s Focus Runs a Little Wide
Where was I? Oh, yes, the battle for the podium. By lap 14, it appeared Stoner was beginning to have tire issues. His pursuers, Lorenzo and Pedrosa, looked to be holding up fine. On lap 18, the race announcers had me convinced that the Australian’s tires were decomposing. Lorenzo went through on lap 19 and Pedrosa on lap 21. The press conference will undoubtedly resolve what actually happened, but Stoner looked as if he could barely get off his bike on his way to the podium celebration. Something was going on with his right hand or wrist.
In the years Stoner doesn’t win titles, something’s ALWAYS going on. If it’s not the shortcomings of the other riders, it’s the tires. If it’s not the tires, it’s the electronics. So far this year we’ve heard a lot of chatter about chatter. It would be SO refreshing if, just once, Stoner could personally accept the blame for not winning, rather than sticking it somewhere else. The best thing about 2011 was not having to listen to Casey whining after every round.
Unbeknownst to me, the British announcers have determined that 2012 is to be The Year of Tire Conservation. After a difficult 2011, Bridgestone went back to the drawing board to develop tires for 2012 that would warm up more quickly. The inevitable tradeoff is that the new tires also wear more quickly, and will be, er, mushier at the end of races. This is likely to affect the jumpier Hondas more than the silky Yamahas. Add in the increased horsepower accompanying the shift from 800cc to 1000cc bikes and, well, Gavin and Nick may be on to something. Bridgestone is promoting the new design as offering closer competition late in races - both on the track and in the run-off areas.
Elsewhere on the Grid
Nicky Hayden started fifth, finished sixth, and was the top finishing Ducati. Now that the new, improved, hideously expensive Desmosedici is officially non-competitive, perhaps Dorna should create a fourth spot on the podium exclusively for the Italian bike. Hector Barbera rode his Pramac machine to ninth place, Rossi dawdled to tenth, and Karel Abraham couldn’t even coax his to finish the race, retiring on lap 9. The temptation to apply the “once proud” tag to the brand is hard to resist.
LCR Honda rookie Stefan Bradl had a fine initial outing in the premier class. He spent most of the day in sixth place before fading late and ending up eighth. Unlike his predecessor Toni Elias, he has had little trouble making the change from Moto2 and Dunlop tires to the Bridgestones on the big bikes. His team must be breathing a sigh of relief, not having to re-live last year’s disaster. One of the machines passing him late in the day belonged to Alvaro Bautista on the Gresini Honda. The good news for Bautista is that he completed the race. The bad news is that boss Fausto is not going to be happy about too many seventh place finishes on what is basically a factory RC213V.
More Elsewhere on the Grid
The CRT bikes performed about as expected. Edwards and Randy de Puniet on the Aprilia-produced Aspar race bike led the class, surprising no one. Eight of the nine CRT entries finished the race. The eighth of these, however, needs a big old asterisk next to the word “finished.”
Michele Pirro, piloting the CRT entry on the Gresini team, pulled into the pits around lap 14 with some kind of mechanical or tire issue, looking as if his day was over. Surprise! He emerged as Lorenzo and company were crossing the finish line, completed a final lap, and finished the race SEVEN LAPS DOWN. Now THAT’S racing.
The Big Picture
For the time being, the second coming of Casey Stoner has been put on hold. Word will emerge on Monday as to whether he has a physical issue. Even if he does, it’s three full weeks until racing resumes at Jerez, the first of (sigh) four Spanish Grans Prix. In the meantime, Jorge Lorenzo can bask in the light of his first ever win under the stars in Qatar. Dani Pedrosa will continue to grit his teeth and appear angry at the world. And Ben Spies may be hearing footsteps, as Cal and Dovi begin to draw a bead on 2013. Not a bad way to start the season.
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